The importance of making a positive first impression can’t be overemphasized, especially in matters dealing with compensation and rewards. You get only one chance to make a good first impression. If it is negative, you may never get an opportunity to correct it. Initial opinions can affect all later decisions. A recent article here reminded me how perceptions can influence hiring, performance reviews and other reward decisions.
Thinking about the power of subjective opinions formed unconsciously reminded me of some research conducted many years ago on a class of new pharmaceutical sales reps undergoing initial training. In their very first exercise, they were all handed a group picture of a previous sales training graduation class with numbers assigned to each individual and asked to match them up with broad general personality characteristics. For example, Subject 1 could be identified as (A) Fast-talking New Yorker, (B) Easygoing Southerner, (C) Energetic Sales Closer, etc. You get the idea. Other choices ranged over a wide variety of imputed characteristics like:
Each person in the group picture had to be assigned one specific label from the list. Of course, the optional labels had nothing to do with the strangers depicted to the training class. Just an academic exercise in random polling, you think? Not at all. The results were stunning.
Without any consultation among the new trainees, subsequent analysis proved their various independent answers reported in secret to be extremely consistent. Not just a statistically significant positive correlation, but a very high degree of inter-rater reliability was found. Almost everyone chose the same characteristic as indicative of the exact same person in the group photo. But they knew nothing about those people except what they looked like! Their judgments were all based on their first visual impression and what they read into the picture of each person. The fact that the viewers pretty much agreed on what characteristic each person “looked like” they possessed is the scary part.
The exercise made the new sales people realize that how they appear to others will strongly affect how successfully they will sell things, including themselves. If the wrong attribute is attributed to them, they may never be hired at a decent salary. During their sales call, they might not gain access to the potential buyer. If they are distrusted, they undercut their ability to close a sale. Simply being guilty of looking a certain way can result in prejudice. Unjustified? Sure. But real.
Once a negative first impression has been set in the minds of the observer, it may be impossible to correct. No one gets a do-over for a first meeting. You may never realize that an initial bias has been formed that can seriously distort the mutually beneficial relationship you seek to create. Even if you sense that a problem exists, any efforts to rehabilitate your image can be too little too late. Attempts to create better rapport can require a lot of work and might not be welcomed, either, because minds can close faster than mousetraps. Repairing an inadvertantlly damaged image is a delicate process with slim chances of success under the best circumstances.
Everyone both gives and receives first impressions that affect their later attitudes and behaviors. We must make allowances for this tendency, because it is part of the human condition. We also need to take precautions to deal with the effects of preliminary judgments based on minimal evidence that skew conclusions; initial contacts that produce incorrect assumptions can undercut all postive aspects of any compensation system.
Wonder what kind of message I send to strangers I meet? If it has anything to do with compensation, I hope it’s a positive impression.
What have you found that works effectively?
E. James (Jim) Brennan is Senior Associate of ERI Economic Research Institute, the premier publisher of interactive pay and living-cost surveys. After over 40 years in HR corporate and consulting roles throughout the U.S. and Canada, he’s pretty much been there done that (articles, books, speeches, seminars, radio/TV, advisory posts, in-trial expert witness stuff, etc.), serves on the Advisory Board of the Compensation and Benefits Review and will express his opinion on almost anything.
Image "A Business Man With An Open Hand Ready To Seal A Deal." courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net