Why “Blink” Matters: The Power of First Impressions

Professional speakers and trainers have long asserted that people make up their minds about people they meet for the first time within two minutes. Others assert that these first impressions about people take only thirty seconds to make. As it turns out, both may be underestimates. According to Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (compare prices), the decisions may occur much faster – think instantaneously or in two seconds. His findings have serious implications for organizations.

According to Gladwell’s research, we think without thinking, we thin-slice whenever we “meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation.” He says, “Snap judgments are, first of all, enormously quick:  they rely on the thinnest slices of experience … they are also unconscious.”(p. 50)

“We thin-slice because we have to, and we come to rely on that ability because there are lots of hidden fists out there, lots of situations where careful attention to the details of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second or two, can tell us an awful lot.” (p.44)

Whenever we have to make sense of complicated situations or deal with lots of information quickly, we bring to bear all of our beliefs, attitudes, values, experiences, education and more on the situation. Then, we thin-slice the situation to comprehend it quickly. The implications of this concept have astonishing significance for our personal reactions to most situations.

It seems to me that this ability to think without thinking, to make snap decisions about situations and people in a “blink”, has significant implications for how we interview and hire staff. It plays havoc with how we view ourselves and our ability to interact with people who are different than ourselves. It impacts how we develop friendships with people at work. It affects our networking and business relationship building. It affects who we believe in a work disagreement or confrontation.

Controlling the Blink

Gladwell offers hope. He believes that our awareness of the fact that we make snap (often unconscious) judgments about people and situations can provide the opportunity for controlling our “blink” response. He cites, as an example, the fact that many try-outs for orchestras are now held with the applicant musicians playing behind a screen. All sexual, racial and physical characteristics are eliminated so selectors can concentrate on listening for the best musician.

At the same time, this ability we have as humans, to quickly make judgment calls, saves lives, provides interpersonal insight, recognizes fake artifacts, allows us to assess situations and take action quickly and can even predict the future of a relationship. So, it’s not an ability you want to discard, even if your first snap decisions or judgment calls can also be terribly wrong.

Genentech, Fortune magazine’s pick as the best company to work for, regards recruiting talented employees as a top priority. Recruiting the “right” employees is a lengthy process that can include a candidate returning to the company to interview 5-6 times. A candidate may participate in as many as 20 interviews. I’ll bet other best companies approach employee selection with just as much care. So should you.

Every company needs an interview process that results in an employee who will fit your culture and work competently on the job. Initial interviews and telephone screens are most frequently performed by the hiring manager and human resources staff. For subsequent interviews, always broaden the list of interviewers to include other managers and staff who must work most closely with the employee in her new job.

In the hiring process, it is important to include a variety of people in the interviews because it helps to have a broad range of people approving and “owning” your new employee when she starts. In fact, don’t worry about asking a candidate to return multiple times.

You can even ask a candidate to come work in your company for a few days to get to know her even better. (I’d pay the working candidate, of course, and this is more difficult to accomplish when the candidate is currently employed.) But, it’s a win-win for both you and the potential employee because spending time together let’s you both know that you are making the right choice.



By , About.com Guide

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