4 Ways to Overcome a Bad First Impression
- Dorie Clark MAY 13, 2016
We’ve all been there — accidentally alienated a new coworker with a bad joke, underwhelmed the new boss by botching our first assignment, or had a client we didn’t just click with. The trouble is that initial impressions are hard to shake.
In a psychological phenomenon known as the “fundamental attribution error,” humans are quick to “essentialize” the behaviors of others. You might have simply been having a bad day, or you might have been off your game because of a recent breakup or death in the family, but your new colleague isn’t likely to extend that generous of an explanation. Instead, they’re far more likely to assume that your subpar performance is an essential trait — making it extremely challenging to overcome their negative perception. But, as I discuss in my book Reinventing You, it’s not impossible to change how others view you. Here are four ways you can begin to overturn their entrenched beliefs.
Surprise them. The reason people don’t often change their initial impressions is that our brain is optimized to conserve energy; if there’s not a compelling reason to re-evaluate something, then we won’t. So you need to manufacture a reason by surprising them. Your colleagues may have built up a certain, inaccurate impression of you — that you’re not leadership material because you’re too mousy and quiet, for instance.
You can’t expect to overturn that thinking with subtle gestures. You need a bolder strategy to force them to re-evaluate what they thought they knew about you. If you’ve developed a reputation for being quiet and never speaking up, it won’t suffice to talk once in a meeting. Instead, make a point of being the first person to speak, and making multiple comments. If your colleagues have to ask themselves, “What got into him?” then you’re on the right track in beginning to change their views.
Overcompensate over time. A forceful change in behavior may get your colleagues to take notice. But if you only do it once, they can write it off as an aberration: He must have had too much coffee that morning. Instead, keep up your new behavior over time, and recognize that in order to change perceptions, you’ll need to do it far longer than the original behavior for which you were pigeonholed.