Here’s Why You Can’t Trust First Impressions — Especially During COVID

Are you convinced that your first impressions are always right? According to Michael Grinder, the pioneer of nonverbal communication, it takes time to get an accurate read on someone — especially since we’re now wearing masks that take away nonverbal cues.

Watch the video or read the modified transcript below:

Modified Transcript

Michael Grinder here, I want to talk some more about COVID.

What happens when two people get together and form their impressions of each other?

So, this is a concept I came up with, it’s called Circles of Humanness.

It says that when I meet someone for the very first time, all I have is their appearance, and within 40 seconds, I’m human, I say, “Well if they look like that, therefore they must be this way.”

But if I interact with them a little bit, I move to the second circle, which is, behaviors.

If I work with them, I’m probably in with their styles. Are they visual? Are they quick? Are they slow to arrive at conclusions?

Then if I live with them, I’m aware of their values and their identity [core], so that’s the circles.

Now, while I’m doing that with the other person, they’re doing it with me too.

So here’s what happens when two people interact with each other. They’re just looking at the outside circles, then they’re trying to move to the inside, and they’re trying to get all the way to the core.

The core and the values are called the sanctuary.

You don’t meet someone’s sanctuary right away. It takes a long time.

You can’t stop your first impression.

It’s okay.

Just don’t believe it’s accurate.

Have a good time — it’s called people watching! But once you do get to know the person, keep trying to progress towards the inside.

Brene Brown would caution us to consider two questions, whenever you interact with someone else:

  • What circle do I want to share of my own?
  • And what circle of the other person do I want to engage with?

If we get to know each other and we’re doing very well, instead of really looking at the outside circles, we look at the inside. And that’s the difference often times between at work, and at home.

Now if I may, what’s going on with COVID and getting to meet someone else — and the amount that you can actually see of the other person — is pretty darn limited. I’m blessed that I’ve worked in Saudi Arabia, with an all-female university. Working with the students, you’re not gonna have any appearance — so you’ve gotta go to something else. Do they talk fast? Do they talk slow? Do they sit still? Do they wiggle a lot?

So you have to go beyond just appearance.

But if I may, with COVID, it’s tough. You have to suspend much longer than normal.

Did you really meet a person? Or did you just meet their outside appearance and behaviors?

Be slow to judge, but fast to get to know.

From the series Coping with COVID: How to use nonverbal to manage stress, worry less, and make working-from-home easier.

Thanks for reading! For more information on how to separate your work life from your home life, sign up for our monthly nonverbal communication tips newsletter.

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