How often have you heard the saying that first impressions count? To some extent this is true. How we appear matters. If you are applying for a job, well polished shoes, a clean shirt and a pressed suit can make all the difference. So too, does a firm handshake, confident smile and polite conversation.
But sometimes we aren’t so forgiving when we’re on the other side. This is true when we’re meeting new people. Sometimes we form impressions based on how someone appears or speaks. How many times have you watched television and back chatted to someone who was being themselves articulating their honest opinion to which you strongly disagreed? Often we don’t know these folks from a bar of soap, but in a few seconds we can form strong impressions and even become hostile in our comments and online opinions.
Pam McDonald last Thursday night shared a few wise words. She dared to challenge our behaviour in her talk entitled, ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ and went on to explain the pitfalls of online dating compared to traditional dating. Whilst she wasn’t convinced that online relationships were a good means of meeting a potential partner and forming a bond, she was quick to remind us not to be too dismissive when it came to getting to know people. The fact remains, a good portion of couples today have found their partner through online dating . Yes, the medium is different. Yes, it isn’t traditional or familiar. But just because it ain’t what we’re used to, need we reject it? Strangely, Pam’s talk got me thinking about how often we do judge people based on first impressions. It led me to reflect on my involvement with the Speechcraft program.
Over the duration of this six week program aimed at assisting individuals to improve their public speaking ability, I myself have undergone a transformation of sorts. Previously, I wasn’t used to seeing individuals from the wider community wanting to self improve. I wasn’t exposed to people who struggled to express themselves. But as I got to know the course participants, my prejudices quickly melted away. I sensed something new and inspiring. I sensed courage, hope and perseverance. By seeing the growth and changes of participants week after week, I was reminded how essential showing grace and allowing others room to grow is when acquiring a new skill. Our society has a terrible habit of making snap decisions and forming quick judgements about people based on how they come across. We lack patience really listening to others and don’t always value getting to know new people outside of our circles. Surprisingly, speaking is only one dimension of communicating and it amounts to only 7% of what is shared!
When I reflect on my involvement in Speechcraft and in Toastmasters, it has certainly been a combination of body language and language which has helped me to get to know and appreciate each of the course participants. Language is brought to life through our passionate storytelling. I only have to think of someone who shared his love of cricket by acting it out, and teaching us the different batting forms by taking his bat. It wouldn’t have been the same if he’d just told us. So body language does count – a heck of a lot.
The next time you find yourself sitting in front of the tv or someone new you’ve just met – hold judgement. First impressions may count, but like the Titanic they can also be wrong.
Natasha C, Parramatta Toastmaster