On an interview or in every day life, what are we saying to people without speaking?

Sam has been hunting for a new job and has an interview at 9 a.m. this morning. He’s prepared his responses, he’s researched the company, and he’s chosen his interview attire the day before. He arrives five minutes early. The interviewer is five minutes late for the interview. He calls Sam into his office. As Sam shakes the manager’s hand and prepares to sit, he notices the manager’s eyes are scrutinizing him from top to bottom. He asks Sam a couple of basic formality interview questions and in less than five minutes, the interview is over. Sam walks out knowing he is not getting a second call. The manager didn’t even offer Sam a chance to share his knowledge of the company or explain why his skills are a perfect fit for them. He wonders why they called him in for the meeting in the first place.

Abbie is remodeling her living room. Following a morning of painting, she heads over to the hardware store. On her way home, she has the urge to visit the furniture store. She needs a new couch and maybe a coffee table. When she enters the store, the salesperson kindly greets her and asks if she can be of assistance. Abbie tells her what she is interested in. Without asking further questions, the salesperson leads Abbie past the high-end section and stops at the discount area. “I think these will suit your style,” she says as she smiles. Abbie notices the poor quality and realizes she could order these same items online through a discount retailer. She thanks the salesperson and walks out. The high-end furniture would have been perfect to go with Abbie’s Ethan Allen® end tables.

Granted, we all enjoy discounts. But on more than one occasion, we have been in a position where we were misjudged by someone. We are aware that initial impressions are important, yet most are inaccurate. Within those first few seconds of meeting someone for the first time, we are judged on our appearance, our facial expression, our attitude, and the way we walk. If we’re fortunate enough to utter words, we are judged on those as well.

Whether or not it’s right is irrelevant – it’s simply a fact.

Thankfully, there are some who are patient. They will have an initial impression about someone, but choose to give that impression more time. They want to get to know the “person” behind that exterior.

When the wrong impression is given, where do we point fingers? Since we cannot eliminate people’s judgments, is there anything we can do to overcome negative impressions? And how do we avoid passing fixed judgment on others?

Placing blame

From the outset, when we think we’ve been misjudged, our first emotional reaction is to point fingers at the judge. When we do that, however, we’re showing that we see the situation from one point of view – our own.

We are whom we choose to be. We express this in various ways, particularly with how we dress, our activities, our lifestyle and even our friends. And without realizing it, we pass judgment on others throughout the day because of decisions they make, the friends they choose, and so on.

What does our appearance say about who we are and how cognizant we are of the environment we’re in? We cannot expect people to take us seriously, for example, if we show up for an interview wearing pajamas. There is appropriate dress and a certain style of grooming for every occasion. How you dress for the beach, for a cocktail party, or during a casual weekend with friends, would be different than what you would wear to an interview or on the job.

How is your attitude? Though we cannot always control things in life that happen to us, we can take control of our attitude. Is our demeanor happy and pleasant? Or do we take a condescending attitude toward others?

What about the way we walk? People who walk with a straight back and shoulders exude confidence. Is that you? Or do you slouch? Our posture speaks volumes about our inner attitude and conviction.

Often, the impression people perceive is the impression we’re giving them.

However, when we find ourselves in a situation where we feel someone has judged us unfairly, do we attempt to right this perceived wrong? Some who know they have been “slighted” for some reason, walk away without another word. But others courageously speak out. They ask questions. And often they realize they misjudged the situation themselves.

In Sam’s scenario, he could have asked: “I’m sensing this interview was not as you had hoped. Did I give you the wrong impression? Are you looking for something specific?”

From the point-of-view of the interviewer: Is it possible he was distracted by a sudden work-related or personal event?

In Abbie’s scenario, realizing her part in the misunderstanding due to her attire, she could have respectfully said: “Thank you for showing me your discount section so I know my options. However, I was hoping for something to go with my Ethan Allen end tables that have been in my family for three generations. Could you show me some styles?”

From the point-of-view of the salesperson: Is it possible she was relatively new to the business and her position, inexperienced and even nervous?

If it’s important to you to understand the situation, speak up in a non-confrontational tone.

If you don’t, and you walk away with the idea that someone judged you unfairly, you just made a judgment call based on perception rather than facts.

How to overcome

Everyone is looking for the right “fit” for him, whether it’s a business or a person. Businesses are working to uphold a particular image and culture. An individual often seeks another who possesses certain qualities, values and goals. In these situations, we have to step back and be willing to be flexible if we want to join the team or attract a particular person.

If you have an interview with a company, does your research involve the atmosphere of the place? Do you know people who work there? What are they like? How do they dress? Are they conservative, artistic, casual or edgy?

Now compare yourself with them. We choose who we are and how we want to represent ourselves, but don’t be surprised if in their eyes you do not suit their style. Forcing your ideas on others is not the way to endear yourself to them.

None of us want to be judged unfairly, but are we giving people reasons to do so? If we wish to be taken seriously, for example, does our wild-colored hair, sloppy or tightly fitting and revealing clothes, and other personal “expressions,” show otherwise?

Compromise is the essence of change. The truth is if we want something bad enough, we will do what we can to get it. We put effort into something we want. We become flexible and we’re not adverse to change.

If we want a particular job, we will make adjustments, at least initially, to show the company we are resolute about working with them.

On the flip side, if we think “conforming” is not what we wish to do, then we’ll have to continue searching for the place that will accept that attitude.

And finally, choose not to be overly sensitive. As stated earlier, ask questions if you’re not sure of the impression you’re giving or the assumption you might be making. You might even make a joke about it (if your sense of humor is up to par). Don’t allow others to get to you. If they truly have unfairly misjudged you, move on.

You cannot control others’ behavior, but you can control your reaction.

Give people a chance

Have you ever observed a painting and noticed certain elements that stood out to you? And then others around you pointed out items that stood out to them? You didn’t notice these features until other people spoke up.

We tend to see the same thing as others in different ways. That’s because we are unique individuals. And when you put unique perspectives together, you create a strong team.

While evaluating someone we meet based on what our eyes see initially cannot be controlled, what we can control is what we do about it. We can either choose to be firm on that initial assessment, even if it’s inaccurate, or we can allow time to help us view the person differently.

When we view the chosen style of dress of someone, for example, is that style conveying the wrong impression, or is it simply that it is not our personal style of choice? Not everyone knows how to dress correctly or understands how to match a style with his/her bubbling personality because he/she has never been taught. Or sometimes we run from one errand to another, schedules suddenly change, and we find ourselves in a situation where if we had time, we would have dressed differently.

Recognize that we don’t always understand the circumstances surrounding someone’s appearance or behavior. All of us experience unexpected stressful situations, which temporarily changes our attitude. And not everyone is a natural actor. Not all people can hide nervousness or depression. People who slouch don’t necessarily lack confidence, but might have a physical disability.

Make it a point to overcome your impression of someone. If you want to know the “person,” ask questions. Allow him to speak and don’t interrupt. Make sure your demeanor is not rigid, but helps the other person to relax. When people feel comfortable with you, their true personality will shine through.

In this way, you can overcome the initial impression and move on to the important qualities that truly shape the person.

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