First impressions are incredibly powerful.
They can be nearly impossible to reverse. But it’s not entirely hopeless: Knowing how snap judgments work can give you a better sense of what kind of one you’re making.
Born in Kansas in the 1950’s, our hospital gave each baby their name wrist tag with their last name on it. This was my first impression – wearing my name proudly. (I am unsure of the safety standards attached to this practice.)
Can we really judge a book by its cover? Our brains take in a huge number of verbal and non-verbal cues almost instantaneously when we see someone. Even if we only see their photo! These powerful impressions that are often as accurate as the impressions we form over longer periods of time. What does this mean to an Expat child who underneath is not the same as his or her outer appearance?
Tip of the iceberg
Fail (2001) described global nomads ‘rather like an iceberg- what is hidden is much larger than what is seen on the surface. The international features of the lives of those who responded revealed how multilingual, well traveled and cross-culturally experienced they are but do not necessarily expose what is going on under the surface’. So how can an expat child show who they really are?
When my daughter went to college in the USA, she looked like an American. For those that knew her – knew she was born in Australia, lived in Indonesia and Nigeria for elementary school and Switzerland for high school. The tip of her iceberg appeared to be an American from the USA, but she had only spent a few weeks each summer in the USA. She was multilingual, well traveled and cross-culturally different than many of her classmates at the University.
Expats need to know about first impressions and how to make a good one.
A 2006 Princeton University study found that it takes just one-tenth of a second to make judgments about a person based on their facial appearance. Judgments — on measures of attractiveness, likeability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness — made within this span of time were not significantly different than those made without time constraints. In fact, confidence for some judgments actually decreased with greater exposure time.
With the amount of time Expats spend having and creating first impressions, this should be something we talk about to our kids. Imagine one-tenth of a second when you are in a crowded airport, one-tenth of a second as you enter your new school, one-tenth of a second as you meet your new neighbors.
The researchers found that attractiveness and trustworthiness are the qualities we judge most quickly.
As a global family, how important is the trustworthiness in your family? How can you model this, so your child really understands what it looks like or feels like? How can you get a feeling of trustworthiness show in your face or manners?
First impressions are so powerful that they can trump prior knowledge, research has found. A recent study found that when told a person’s sexual orientation, participants still identified whether a subject was gay or straight based on their first impression of how that person looked. While making quick first impressions is a natural cognitive response, these sorts of snap judgments lead to stereotyping.
“We judge books by their covers, and we can’t help but do it,” researcher Nicholas Rule of the University of Toronto said in a statement. “With effort, we can overcome this to some extent.” It is not easy.
Initial Perceptions – Posture and Voice Tone are Important
A 2009 study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that both clothing style and posture played a role in initial perceptions. The tone and tenor of your voice also play a significant role in determining what kind of first impression you make on others.
Often expat children are dealing with a second or a third language and perhaps they are shy about their language ability in their non-native tongue. How does your child project his or her voice in the new language? They might not have mastered the new language yet, but they can master the non-language image of ‘posture’. Have you worked on your child’s knowledge of how important posture is in first impressions?
Did you know that your tone of voice is what people use to judge trustworthiness, aggressiveness, and warmth?
“Psychologists have confirmed that people do make snap judgments when they hear someone’s voice,” Drew Rendall, a psychologist at the University of Lethbridge, told Science Mag. “And the judgments are made on very slim evidence.”
Have you ever talked to your expat child about a ‘snap judgment’ you’ve done and how wrong you were? Children need to learn about these judgments so they can better understand how they might be misunderstood.
Expats often have to make first impressions online.
A series of University of British Columbia studies found that first impressions are formed differently in person versus online or by video. The research found that in-person and video impressions were similarly accurate in judging various personality measures such as extraversion and likeability. However, passive video-based impressions were overwhelmingly more negative than impressions made based on meeting in-person. Another study found that first impressions made based on Facebook photos were as accurate as in-person impressions, but they tended to be substantially more negative.
“If you want to make a good impression, it is critical that it is done in person,”University of British Columbia psychologist Jeremy Biesanz said in a statement. “More passive impressions are substantially more negative.”
Expat parenting is about teaching and modeling.
As parents of global nomads, we must think how we can model ‘first impressions’ so our children not only understand the concept but see us in action. When you know you will be meeting new people share this with your kids:
- Today we will meet the new family next door, first impressions are important.
- When we go over to meet them, I am going to make sure I look each family member in the eyes and firmly shake their hands. Since their one child is only four, I will not expect her to shake my hand, but I will want to make eye and hand contact with everyone else in the family.
- I want my voice to seem warm and inviting. This will help them feel like they can trust me.
- I will want to make sure they know they can come over to ask questions or borrow something if it will help their family.
Then ask your child, “What will you do to help them feel like they can trust you?” or “What voice will you use when you talk to them?” “What will your posture look like when you approach the new family?”
When you have been in a situation where your family has had a new ‘first impression’ debrief it after the family leaves. Ask your children, “Did the new person attempt to make eye contact with you?” Or, “What did his tone of voice make you feel?” Or, “Did his handshake make you feel good?” Anytime you can debrief a social interaction with your child, he or she benefits from your knowledge.
So many times as parents we miss true teaching moments!
Many thanks to Carolyn Gregoire
Related blog post- Making judgments