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11-02-2008, 10:49 AM
Recently I was pondering why first impressions are so important, and I realized that the power of a first impression lies in the psychological principle known as commitment and consistency.

Paraphrased from "Influence" by Robert B. Cialdini
Commitment and Consistency


People have a desire to look consistent through their words, beliefs, attitudes and deeds and this tendency is supported or fed from three sources:

Good personal consistency is highly valued by society.
Consistent conduct provides a beneficial approach to daily life.

A consistent orientation affords a valuable shortcut through the complexity of modern existence. That is-- by being consistent with earlier decisions we can reduce the need to process all the relevant information in future similar situations. Instead, one merely needs to recall the earlier decision and respond consistently.

The key to using the principles of Commitment and Consistency to manipulate people is held within the initial commitment. That is--after making a commitment, taking a stand or position, people are more willing to agree to requests that are consistent with their prior commitment. Many compliance professionals will try to induce others to take an initial position that is consistent with a behavior they will later request.

Commitments are most effective when they are active, public, effortful, and viewed as internally motivated and not coerced. Once a stand is taken, there is a natural tendency to behave in ways that are stubbornly consistent with the stand. The drive to be and look consistent constitutes a highly potent tool of social influence, often causing people to act in ways that are clearly contrary to their own best interests.

Commitment decisions, even erroneous ones, have a tendency to be self-perpetuating--they often "grow their own legs." That is--those involved may add new reasons and justifications to support the wisdom of commitments they have already made. As a consequence, some commitments remain in effect long after the conditions that spurred them have changed. This phenomenon explains the effectiveness of certain deceptive compliance practices.

The applications in terms of raising a target's compliance are obvious, but knowing that the gut level reaction people have when you make your first impression is a personal commitment to their idea of you that they will be compelled to maintain consistency with is an eye opening look at first impressions and what they do.

Here is a little tip that will help make a better first impression and it's also great for those of us working on body language. Anytime you enter a room, fill your lungs with oxygen and take a moment to check your body language before entering. First impressions are important, and this is a great habit to develop.