What is your usual impression on others?

The first impression as a self-fulfilling prophecy

The first impression is formed quickly - and many people trust it very much. In fact, one often experiences that the first impression seems to be confirmed upon closer acquaintance. But there are reasons to question your impression, because prophecies like to fulfill themselves.

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We often experience that our first impression is actually confirmed on closer inspection (see also Wissensblitz 12 for the assessment of colleagues and Wissensblitz 145 on the Pygmalion effect). Imagine you have a new employee on the team. The new colleague arrives a few minutes late for the first team meeting. His appearance is relatively casual and his way of speaking is more casual than usual in the company. Your first impression is that the colleague is messy, maybe even unreliable. A few weeks later you will be asked how your new colleague has developed - and you can say with a clear conscience that your first impression has been confirmed. In fact, the colleague is friendly and resourceful, but not as accurate as you would like.

The impression we have of other people can arise within seconds. But can we really trust that? Research on self-fulfilling prophecies has shown that we partially ensure that our first impression is confirmed: on the one hand through a distorted perception and interpretation, on the other hand through our own behavior.

You can see what you expect

We like to see what we expect. If you expect chaotic behavior from a colleague, then you will notice the things that confirm your expectations: if the new colleague has not sorted his documents or has forgotten the name of a colleague, this confirms your first impression. On the other hand, it does not matter that the colleague organizes his work processes systematically, instructs his subordinates very well or that his documentation is exceptionally careful. Particularly in the case of ambiguous behaviors with a large scope for interpretation, the interpretations are strongly guided by one's own expectations. If, for example, the new colleague asks a question about the project in the team meeting, you might consider it poor preparation, while you would interpret the same behavior with other employees as interest or constructive criticism.

You do what you expect yourself to do

The first impression does not only influence the subjective interpretation of facts. He can also objectively change the behavior of the other person. Controlled by your first impression, you might not give the new colleague any tasks that require precise processing, but rather unsystematic tasks. You would adopt a relaxed tone when dealing with him and ask for advice on creative issues rather than organizational issues. The new colleague would be called consequence As a result of your behavior, solve the open tasks unsystematically, use a collegial tone yourself and express more creative, but less organizational ideas.

Take on new perspectives

So the first impression has a tendency to confirm itself. As a result, potential can easily remain unused in day-to-day work and wrong decisions arise. In fact, it is worth questioning your own impression and getting other opinions and new perspectives. As a manager, you should be self-critical and curious, hear other opinions openly and take a fresh look at employees from time to time.

References: Greitemeyer, T (2008). Self-fulfilling prophecies. In L. Petersen & B. Six (Eds), Stereotypes, Prejudice and Social Discrimination (pp. 80-87). Weinheim: Belz.

Quote as: Matschke, C. (2015). The first impression. knowledge.blitz (152). https://wissensdialoge.de/ersterebeispiel