Newsetter volume 2 number 2
For better or worse, first impressions count. They influence our choice of friends - sometimes even of partners - and they play a major role in the hiring process. Walk into an interview wearing a nose-ring, and no one will care about your three degrees from Harvard.
When we ask participants in our seminars to identify things that contribute to a positive first impression, they invariably mention a firm handshake and direct eye contact. In fact, these two qualities almost single-handedly (so to speak) define appropriate interview behavior. But do they really provide a reliable assessment of character? Probably not.
A case in point: Newsweek recently interviewed Timothy McVeigh, the chief suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing. The magazine described McVeigh as "good-humored" and "normal," and noted that "his handshake was firm, and he looked his visitors right in the eye." Although McVeigh has not been convicted of any crime, an assessment of his character using these criteria does raise questions.
If, for instance, McVeigh is deemed "normal" on the basis of his brawny handshake and military bearing, does that mean that anyone lacking these characteristics is "abnormal?" Further-more, what happens to job candidates whose ethnic or cultural traditions do not emphasize such behavior?
In some cultures, in fact, direct eye contact is considered rude and a hearty grip is considered a sign of aggression. Given today's global economy and increasingly diverse workforce, it's time to take a second look at first impressions. (See Required: A Passport Plus Competencies)