"What a prat," I thought, a few seconds after I was introduced to a delegate at a recent business event I was speaking at. "Rude, uptight, patronising, condescending... I would quite like to get away from this person as quickly as possible." And to my relief, I managed to politely extricate myself from the conversation.
It's not often I meet someone and get an immediately negative first impression. I like to think my default is to believe all people are lovely, until they prove otherwise. But I am guilty of making snap judgments, as we all are.
Harsh? Was I judging the book by its cover? Was I wrong to do so? Possibly. But science and psychological experiments would suggest I was just being human.
When we all meet someone for the first time, our brain is making decisions. Do I like this person? Do they make me feel comfortable? Are they clever, kind, professional, fun, warm?
So, if we are making all these snap judgments about other people, doesn't that mean *gulp* that they are doing the same back to us? *quickly wipes lunch debris off suit lapel*
Not only are people making these snap decisions about us, but the speed at which they do so is quite shocking. Research suggests that it takes just 1/10th of a second...
And it's not just in the physical world that this happens. We do it in the virtual space on social media too: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter. We make decisions based on the information available at first glance, just as we do in a pub or a business networking event.
In my headhunting days, I would trawl LinkedIn for suitable candidates. I would make a shortlist of people from initially hundreds after quickly glancing at their online profiles. Shocking? It's no different to doing it in real life.
I'm not the only one. How many times have you looked at a friend of a friend's profile on Facebook and decided if you'd like to share a pint with that person or not? And conversely, what do they think when they come across the 'online you' ?
So what can we do about this? It is widely accepted by psychology researchers that there are five basic dimensions to a human personality. These five categories are usually described as follows:
1. Extraversion: This trait includes characteristics such as excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness and high amounts of emotional expressiveness.
2. Agreeableness: This personality dimension includes attributes such as trust, altruism, kindness, affection, and other prosocial behaviors.
3. Conscientiousness: Common features of this dimension include high levels of thoughtfulness, with good impulse control and goal-directed behaviors. Those high in conscientiousness tend to be organized and mindful of details.
4. Neuroticism: Individuals high in this trait tend to experience emotional instability, anxiety, moodiness, irritability, and sadness.
5. Openness: This trait features characteristics such as imagination and insight, and those high in this trait also tend to have a broad range of interests.
Distilling this down further, we are back to the 'know, like and trust' factors mentioned in my last blog.
Bear the five traits above in mind when editing your LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook profiles.
Read my face:
Science suggests your photo is THE most important part to get right. We have just 1/10th second, remember? We judge the big five personality traits from faces initially, then read further to confirm those first impressions. Smiling warmly is an obvious one - maybe time to remove those sultry, moody poses?
What to write: For business users of LinkedIn, craft your profile to show how you may be able to help others with your expertise. Add your personal interests - be genuine. You will seem more open, more extroverted, more agreeable. Show goals and direction - you will score highly on the conscientious scale with this.
The same can apply to Facebook. How do your likes, interests, groups and pages back up how lovely (or not) you may seem from your photo? I decided not to date an introduction on Facebook last year based on quite scant information from their profile.
I'm off now (not to harshly judge people as prats after two seconds) but to look again at my LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter profiles. Especially my photos. I'm not as miserable as I look, honest... am I?
Follow Michelle Beckett on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MichelleBeckett