Our first impressions often guide most of our subsequent attitudes, feelings, expectations, and behavior around the person or situation we have encountered. Consider meeting a younger relative at a family gathering that you haven’t seen for 6 or 8 years and you notice them sporting multiple earrings in each ear and five or six large tattoos covering significant areas of their body. What are your first impressions and how do they shape your interaction with him or her? Do you form immediate impressions of the kind of person they are or how they live their lives? Does this draw you toward him or her or does it lead you to give them a wide berth?
Our first impressions of a person or environment are formed from a combination of our personal history, the stereotypes and beliefs we have internalized from our parents and culture and our degree of our open-mindedness or judgment in approaching the world in general. Some people and situations are so alien or frightening that our feelings of intimidation lead us to avoid all future contact and sometimes this is an appropriate response to maintain a sense of safety or avoid situations that might be dangerous or unpleasant.
Equally often, our first impressions may attract us to a person or situation. That which is unfamiliar can evoke feelings of curiosity, pleasure or resonance. We may find ourselves discovering something new about ourselves, such as a new hobby interest or understanding of something we have not previously considered. We learn that our first impressions may be accurate or inaccurate. People are multi-faceted and any one slice of encounter can never capture the depth and complexity of our experience of another.
Questions to Consider:
1) In your experience, have first impressions more often been a limiter of your experience or a new door to open? What does this say about you?
2) How often do you find your first impressions to remain consistent over time and how often have you found your attitudes changing significantly with more interaction and time spent?
3) If a first impression puts you off or scares you, do you give the person or situation a wide berth or do you maintain a sense of curiosity about them and choose to find out a bit more before reaching a conclusion?
4) Are you generally intrigued by people and situations that are significantly different from you or more likely to avoid them?
5) Share one or two experiences in which you have encountered something unfamiliar and how your unfolding next impressions almost completely changed your feelings about the person or situation.