Written by Cheryl Jacobs

You only get one chance to make a first impression.  How many times have you heard this saying?  The crux of this phrase implies that first impressions are powerful, and they are. But it also implies that they can’t be changed. I was reminded recently how first impressions can be flawed, and based more on our own biases and filters versus being a true reflection of the other person.

Over the past several years, I would see a woman (we’ll call her Anne) frequently at the hockey rink. We have boys that are the same age. While they weren’t on the same team, they had overlapping schedules that had us at the rink frequently at the same time. Anne is a very pretty woman, very tall and thin, with long straight blond hair. Anne never smiled or acknowledged that I looked familiar. I would make eye contact, smile, try and make small talk, but no response. At first, I thought she didn’t recognize me, but after two years of tying skates near each other, I made the assumption that Anne was a snob and didn’t think I was worth talking to. I began to reflect Anne’s demeanor- not smiling at her anymore, or making any attempt to connect.

Last year, our boys were placed on the same team, and through more frequent and smaller group interactions, my perception of Anne completely changed. She is not a snob at all- and in fact is one of the most sincere people I’ve met. Yes, she is quiet but becomes very outgoing once she knows you.  She, in fact, does smile and is able to have a two-way conversation, two assumptions I made, that through time, were proven untrue.

As an executive coach, I am always reminding clients to be self-aware, specifically to be smart about where and how your own view of the world impacts the assumptions you make about other people and situations. Through my evolving relationship with Anne, I was reminded in a very personal way that self-awareness is an evolution, constantly changing and adapting. I got lazy and made some assumptions that if I didn’t catch, would have lead me to miss out on a wonderful friendship.

So, yes, first impressions are powerful, and it is natural to draw conclusions from them. However, before drawing those conclusions, try to pause and ask yourself if there is another explanation or scenario. There may not be, but if I had done that with Anne, I may have realized who she truly is a lot sooner.