Overcome judgmental tendencies and first impression bias with Helen Monument’s top tips
One of the most important things I learned about myself when training to be a coach and counsellor was that I was too judgmental. I did not openly voice my opinions about others, but in my head, I was putting people into a pigeonhole the moment I met them. I was sticking an imaginary label onto their forehead: immature, lazy, intelligent, confident, attractive, complicated, pushy, timid, boring, funny, serious, needy and so on. During training, I found myself comparing how my (guinea pig) clients said they reacted in a certain situation to how I would react myself under the same circumstances, and I made judgements about them based on my own experiences.
You make up your mind about someone within the first 30 seconds of meeting them, but for a coach or counsellor, this is challenging behaviour that they must learn to conquer.
Unconditional Positive Regard
It was during my training that I heard for the first time about Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR). It’s at the heart of the person-centred approach to coaching and counselling that I was learning. It’s the ability to understand that everyone is a different human being. I realised that if I was going to be a successful coach, I needed to learn to separate the person from their behaviour and accept them just as they were. I needed to be non-judgmental, unbiased, open, accepting and respectful. A client should be able to say anything to me without fear of being judged.
UPR is one of the hardest skills I have had to learn. It means that as a coach or counsellor, I simply accept my clients, no matter what they may say or do.
It’s easier said than done. It’s hard to stop those voices in our head; they come from our experiences and upbringing, forming our opinions as quick as a reflex. How often have you taken an instant dislike to a new colleague, for no apparent reason, purely on the first impression? Once you’ve got that thought in your head, you are less likely to make an effort to get to know them.
First Impression Bias
For Hiring or HR Managers, first impression bias is a real risk. As Lou Adler says in his LinkedIn article “5 Steps to Eliminate First Impression Bias and Hire the Right Candidate”:
“First impression bias is the primary cause of most hiring mistakes. Why? Because when we feel good about someone right away, we tend to ask easier questions. And, when we feel negative right away, we ask more difficult questions. In other words, we (often subconsciously) look to confirm our first impression.”
He goes on to give some useful tips on how to shift the interview focus from presentation to performance.
Inversely, if you’re the one trying very hard to create a good first impression, then you’ll probably give the wrong one. If you’re not being your true self when you start a new job or go for an interview, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Do you really want to work in a company that forces you to act differently from your authentic self?
Overcoming First Impression Bias
When you meet someone for the first time, try these simple techniques:
Take your time
Give yourself more than 30 seconds. Be aware of your tendency to judge, put that aside and shift your brain into receptive mode.
Shelve your assumptions
You have no knowledge of the other person’s background; there may be a reason for them acting in a certain way. Ask yourself where your assumptions come from: is there something happening in your own life that causes you to judge others? Keep an open mind.
The more you learn about someone, the more you can understand them, so ask open questions to get them talking about themselves.
Come out of your shell
The more you expose yourself to people who do and say things that are outside of your comfort zone, the less likely you are to judge others.
Remember, you absolutely cannot judge a book by its cover.