Our first impressions often influence the way we respond to and interact with people – whether they are fair, right or completely “off base.” When we pre-suppose what another’s strengths or weaknesses are because of the way they look, act or present themselves we limit (or elevate) their ability to contribute to the advancement of ideas, the alteration of environments or the success of future endeavors. When we rush to judgment, defining the capabilities of others based on what we perceive rather than through an analysis of their proven abilities or an examination of the results they produce, we pre-dispose their performance to rise only to the level of competence our minds have established. Some dangers inherent to allowing our first impressions (be they “spot on” or “way off”) to establish the potential contributions of others would include:
Unfounded perceptions can negatively influence our thoughts and actions – often encouraging us to make inappropriate and potentially harmful decisions.
Our perceptions can cause us to act more on feel than fact – a dangerous and unreliable driver when making significant decisions. The way others look, dress or speak can indicate much about their actions, reactions and thoughts BUT it can also mislead us into limiting (or elevating) their capabilities. I worked for a very successful business leader years ago that would always “dress down” when looking to buy any major purchase so that the sales person would not “pre-imagine” how much he could pay for the item but rather think about how low the price might have to go in order to make a sale. When we label an individual based on what they look like, sound like or appear to be we potentially lose the potential they might have – then wonder why the person did not blossom as we hoped they would when we first met them. People tend to make judgements based on first impressions but must look beneath the surface when determining the true value of an individual. Successful individuals (in life, within relationships OR at work) take the time needed to identify (and grow) the strengths of those around them while nurturing (and developing) their areas of weakness. Unless (and until) we look to leverage the abilities of others we will never be able to overcome the disabilities that we would otherwise focus upon.
We miss much in life when we assume to know what another is thinking as we limit what they might truly be able to contribute by rendering it unnecessary (or unacceptable) for them to speak.
We have all heard someone interrupt another by saying, “I know what you are thinking…” or simply complete another’s sentence only to hear, “That is not what I was going to say.” When we assume what another thinks (or can contribute), we discount anything they might say or do to improve a situation. Rather than defining another’s abilities through a potentially inaccurate first impression it is better to ask questions, listen to responses, and drill down to establish their true (or possible) capabilities. Finding out what someone can contribute by creating an environment allowing him or her to utilize their knowledge as they leverage their experiences to realize their potential will accomplish much. Successful people provide support and encouragement to individuals around them – helping them define and establish their own reality within a broad framework which has been communicated as being safe and acceptable while allowing (and encouraging) them to learn from failure (rather than trying to prevent them from ever making mistakes).
We tend to fulfill our own prophecies for what we can accomplish AND what others might achieve. We limit our own potential when we allow ourselves to be content with a partial solution (no matter how much better it might be than what exists now) and inhibit those around us from growing when we establish ceilings that prevent them from reaching their full potential (or building spaces from which they cannot leave to explore other possibilities. We stifle initiative when we allow our first impressions to dictate acceptable standards, expected actions and what should be accomplished (rather than considering what COULD be accomplished if only others were allowed to stretch their wings and fly on their own).
Some individuals refuse to set goals for fear they might fail – preferring to experience success in whatever they say or do as they measure progress rather than results when performing as directed rather than seeking new and innovative solutions. While we should measure progress to identify how far we have come and how far we must go, it should be to determine how close we are to the accomplishment of a goal rather than a validation of past success, an excuse for failure or a justification of how far we have come (rather than looking to what might still lie ahead). We should use accomplishment as a springboard towards future success rather than as a resting place that provides immediate gratification and keeps us from reaching for future rewards. Had someone not imagined flight as being possible then sought results through practical efforts (rather than stopping when their thoughts had materialized), we may never have left the hanger at Kitty Hawk. The first impression most had of Albert Einstein was a distracted individual having poor math skills who would never fit into society – an impression he did not accept as a final definition of his worth and value. He chose to use the “label” as a springboard to accomplish what he dreamed possible rather than settling for what others thought probable – refusing to accept the limits others arbitrarily placed upon his potential as he sought fulfillment and self-worth in his own accomplishments.
When we establish high expectations, great things happen. We may find comfort but will rarely experience satisfaction should we settle for something less than the best.
Individuals tend to rise to the level they are expected to reach – to accomplish the objectives that have been established for them (when they are established) but not often much more than what is expected. It is important that we overcome our tendency to label people when we meet them, choosing instead to maintain an open mind as we seek astonishing results. While someone labeled “mediocre” or “lacking” during a first impression does not often realize excellence, mediocrity cannot establish a foothold in our lives (or the lives of those around us) when we truly believe that all people are capable of accomplishing great things. IF we feel that our first impressions are infallible – and seek to determine our direction based on our pre-conceived values of others – we will thrive ONLY if we can accept that our initial judgments may change and that what was once considered to be a reasonable expectation may, in fact, be but a foundation for future growth.
Successful people find it is easier to work with and build up the strengths of individuals than it is to overcome or try to develop their weaknesses – and that communicating lofty goals and expectations is a precursor to their becoming valued contributors. Do not let your first impressions (be they overly positive as they may set others up to fail OR too negative as they may discourage and diminish their potential contributions) be the driving force in determining what might ultimately become possible. Looking at what those around us might be able to accomplish (rather than focusing only upon what they have done) – then equipping them to achieve greatness by accepting their unique and individual potential and building upon the strengths they offer rather than focusing on the abilities they have yet to demonstrate – will allow us all to grow and thrive.