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Challenging a Strong First Impression
Leaders are generally quite good at taking limited amounts of information and making reasonable inferences.
The first impressions leaders have of others, usually coming in just the first few minutes of contact, are often highly accurate. In fact, most leaders will tell you they surprise even themselves with their clairvoyance regarding first impressions. This encourages them to rely even more heavily on their initial judgments of people and situations.
The problem is not that leaders depend on their first impressions to inform their judgments. Everyone does it. The problem is that when leaders are wrong, they are usually wrong in a big way.
Like everyone else, leaders can draw a false, even opposite, conclusion about a person or situation and misread things entirely. When this occurs, the wrong conclusion can have a long-lasting and adverse effect on the opportunities, choices, and decisions that define the future.
Learning to challenge an initial impression is something good leaders do. Because they admit that the ability to reverse their initial opinions is a hallmark of an open mind and an effective leader, they work hard to challenge their initial views before forming lasting opinions. This is easier said than done.
The key to challenging a strong first impression is to get curious about who people are and how they became the person they are today. Creating a more nuanced and accurate understanding of people depends more on curiosity than it does an open mind. By digging deeper through questions and probing statements, leaders can come to challenge their initial perceptions as more information comes to light.
Curious leaders explore backstories. They value learning about the personal journeys people take on their way to this very interaction. Because people generally like to talk about their stories, it is not difficult to find an opening to explore that is both interesting and insightful. Probing this pathway reveals more about the other person and slows down the urge to make a snap judgment.
Making inferences about people without having complete information is something all leaders do. First impressions serve leaders well until they don’t. Because of the downside of totally misjudging someone, it is important to remain vigilant of making too much of too little. A curious mind fights this tendency and allows leaders to become even more accurate with their second impressions.