Communication skills: Why do we create first impressions?

John French


Why do we create our first impressions? This blog teaches you what you need to know.

First impressions are lasting impressions

First impressions and communication skills

Your first impressions have the power to make or break you. That initial assessment either opens doors for you; or it closes them. Over the years I have read hundreds of articles on how to create a great first impression, but sadly hardly any of them focus on the science and psychology behind why we actually form our first impressions.

What drives people to create first impressions? If we can uncover the answer to this, then we shall know what to do to feed these deep impulses that we all have.

We filter the world

Our starting point is to acknowledge that we all need to make sense of each person that we encounter and every situation we find ourselves in. We humans live in a potentially hostile and volatile world. It is our instinct’s and our ego’s job to filter everything we encounter to assess whether it poses an opportunity or a threat.

It is as simple and binary as that. In every first impression situation, people are assessing you to find out whether you present an opportunity; or whether there is nothing to be had; or if you are a danger or a threat.

Think about the job interview scenario. Imagine yourself in a negotiation. Does the person on the other side of the table make you feel safe, or perhaps a little excited and optimistic? Conversely, do they make you feel unsafe, or make you feel that you are wasting your time?

And so, by drawing our first impressions, we have the useful ability to quickly decide whether we want to explore or disengage. It’s really that simple. In business, our first impressions help us to assess people and we put them in to two categories: those individuals where we see potential; and those where we don’t.

How your brain assesses first impressions

New York University researchers led by Daniela Schiller examined the neuroscience about how people form impressions of others. The Amygdala area of our brain receives information from our five senses, allowing it to assess stimuli. The Amygdala controls and moderates our motivations, telling us how to navigate our social world.

The Posterior Cingular Cortex (PCC) area of our brains is active when we assess the value of people and objects. The PCC assists us in making choices, calculating risky decisions and taking bets.

Together, the Amygdala and the PCC assist us in computing our first impressions of others. “These regions sort information on the basis of its personal and subjective importance and summarise it into an ultimate score, a first impression,” says Schiller.

To summarise: first impressions activate the same region of our brains responsible for assigning prices to objects. And after people have assigned a value to you, they make the decision about how to position themselves in relation to you. They will decide if they want to explore synergies and opportunities with you. Or, at worst, they see no value attached to engaging with you.

Experts Call It ‘Thin Slicing’

Experts call the human brain’s ability to reach conclusions based on just a momentary exposure to you as ‘thin slicing.’ Malcolm Gladwell, the renowned author concludes: “We thin-slice whenever we meet a new person.”

Assessing first impressions against our needs and expectations

Whether we are interviewing, meeting someone for the first time, or even going on a date, we tend to assess that person against our specific benchmarks about what we think we are looking for in that potential employee, a romantic partner or possible new friend. We all have certain expectations about what the ideal candidate should look like; what their attitude and ideal personality should be, and what skills, interests or experience they should have.

At this early assessment stage, we assess the person in front of us against the benchmark of the expectations we have in our heads. If the candidate does not match our expectations and needs, we quickly try and escape; but if they do tick our boxes, we tend to feel charged with excitement and pleasure and proceed to explore synergies and opportunities with them.

First impressions are shaped by our cultural bias

No matter how politically tolerant and unbiased you may try to be, the truth of the matter is that we all have what psychologists call ‘unconscious bias’. This means that we tend to judge the world and everybody in it against our own chosen and conditioned set of values and cultural chosen norms.

If people resonate or align themselves to our deeply-held values and cultural habits we tend to like them and trust them far more. The old adage: ‘Like attracts like’ rings true. We are naturally attracted to those people who are similar to ourselves. Familiarity creates a sense of safety and an immediate resonance. So, the more you can subtly mirror someone’s projections and communication style when you meet them, the better your first impression and impact is likely to be.

Understanding Personality bias

Building on the idea that we tend to resonate better with people who are similar to ourselves, another huge influencer on first impressions is the ‘personality bias’ that we all subconsciously hold. For example: if you are an introvert, you are more likely to feel safer with, and will probably be more inclined towards other introverts. If you are a highly logical person, then others exhibiting a logical prowess are likely to create a more positive first impression with you.

And so it goes … we tend to choose employees, friends and suppliers that resonate with us at a deep subconscious personality affiliation level. Skilled communicators can use personality language to encourage very positive responses in others at a very deep subconscious level. This personality language technique is the most effective way to influence your clients.

Poor first impressions
You don’t want it to start off badly…

How you can improve your first impression

You can radically enhance your first impressions by:

  1. Asking yourself what kind of first impression you need to create to open the door to further engagement and opportunities.
  2. Pay close attention to the feedback you receive from others. How do people initially react to you? You can improve your communications and communication in the workplace by putting more effort into your first impressions.
  3. You can improve your first impressions and ability to communicate professionally by paying attention to your non-verbal communication: your posture, body language, hand gestures, facial expressions and eye contact.
  4. In face to face communication, you can improve your verbal communication by paying attention to your voice: your voice projection, clarity of speech and friendly tone of voice.
  5. Keep an open mind, pay attention and use effective listening skills to listen to your client’s point of view and accommodate their personality type and communication style.

If you would like to improve your first impressions and communication skills, or for more information on our various communication skills training programmes, e-mail the Communication Guru John French at

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Stress Management is a vital module in all of our training programmes because stress is the greatest enemy of effective communication. Listen to this 8 minute beautiful guided relaxation by Jenny Ibbotson. It will help you to manage anxiety and develop a habit of calmness.


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