Is there anyone else in the room with you as you read this? If so, can you take a minute, and just think about the first time you met that person, and what you thought of them? If not, and you have chosen to sequester yourself away to give your full, undivided attention to reading (thanks), just pick a random person for this exercise. Anyone will do. Sprint through the halls of your memory to that first encounter, that very first impression that you had of them. How different are they now? How different are you now?
First impressions fascinate me, because they are consistently so different from the person you now know in real time. And the change in that person isn’t because they were falsely advertising; it’s a mixture of them opening up to you, and you getting past their front, as well as their natural character development as time passes. Plus, you personally will have changed, possibly even as a result of knowing this person. Your understanding of them, your understanding of yourself – all of this contributes to the way you think and feel about this person today, which is often at complete odds to the initial reaction you had the first time they stepped into a room.
I can see some of you scratching your pretty little heads, and wondering how this relates to the grand theme of this issue. Doorways? What do you have to do to make a first impression? Enter the room. Through a DOORWAY. Nice. (Do not try to engage with me on outdoor first impressions. I don’t want to hear it).
Apparently, the reason we seem to think first impressions are so important, is because humans are primed to identify threats when they walk through the door. These first impressions are based on facial shape, voice inflection, attractiveness, general emotional state (of both parties), and so many more factors. More often than not, impressions are not based on what we say, but on little aspects of how we act, which is possibly why controlling a first impression is so difficult. Being in a group of people, or having more people around you, hugely affects how you judge someone. Individuals are more likely to judge someone negatively on a first impression than a group, but are equally far more open to having their personal opinions improving over time, while group judgements are often stuck once made.
At school, it was drummed into us – first impressions matter. You only have one chance to make a first impression. And yes, maybe in the business world, the job world, that’s true – the entire point of an interview is to gauge as much about a person in as short a time as possible. But you don’t interview for friendships. They evolve. So really, the first impression doesn’t matter – it’s just interesting to reflect on.
When I go to a new place, where I’ll meet many different people, I always try to write down my first impressions of them. It is fascinating to look back on when you know them well, at the end of a trip, or just midway through, when you’re still in the process of figuring it all out. I will be leaving university in a few months, and I have been slightly obsessing over the first impressions I had of people. Mainly because of their many inaccuracies. Almost every single one was wrong.
The way that I know that first impressions don’t matter is because I can remember what I did in the first week of university, and the way I initially presented. I didn’t speak. I could not talk. If you know me outside of BRIZO, you will know that I talk constantly. Whilst I’m walking, whilst I’m cooking, whilst I’m by myself, whilst I’m playing chess (which I have been told you are supposed to be silent and focused for). But for the entirety of first week I did not say a word, somehow getting scooped up by a group of lovely girls who took me with them to dinner and a party. As far as I recall, this mute state continued up until one of the boys in the room was talking about Lambrini, that bastion of Fresher’s week, and was asked what Lambrini actually was. ‘Lambrini’, he declared, ‘is proof God exists’. From across the room I, out of literally nowhere, yelled ‘I’m proof God exists.’ Neither my inability to talk, nor my apparently huge ego are entirely accurate representations of who I am, so pretty much everyone I met in Freshers would have had completely the wrong first impression of me.
Opinions change, impressions are only fleeting. The most interesting purpose they serve is as a baseline to which you can compare your current understanding of a person.
Art by Kate Grant