Why "Blink" Matters: The Power of Your First Impressions

Do You Understand and Act Upon the Power of Your First Impressions?

You need to take care when you are thin slicing to form an opinion about a job candidate.
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Professional speakers and trainers have long asserted that people make up their minds about people they meet for the first time within two minutes. Others assert that these first impressions about people take only thirty seconds to make.

As it turns out, both may be underestimates. According to Malcolm Gladwell, in "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking," the decisions may occur much faster—think instantaneously or in two seconds. His findings have serious implications for organizations.

According to Gladwell’s research, people think without thinking, people thin-slice whenever they “meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation.” He says, “Snap judgments are, first of all, enormously quick: they rely on the thinnest slices of experience … they are also unconscious.”(p. 50)

“We thin-slice because we have to, and we come to rely on that ability because there are lots of hidden fists out there, lots of situations where careful attention to the details of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second or two, can tell us an awful lot.” (p.44)

Whenever people have to make sense of complicated situations or deal with lots of information quickly, they bring to bear all of their beliefs, attitudes, values, experiences, education and more on the situation. Then, people thin-slice the situation to comprehend it quickly.

The implications of this concept have astonishing significance for your personal reactions to most situations. Your thin slicing in a blink has enormous implications for how you hire and build relationships. 

Thin Slicing in a Blink When Hiring and Building Relationships

It would appear that this ability to think without thinking, to make snap decisions about situations and people in a “blink,” has significant implications for how you interview and hire staff. It plays havoc with how you view yourself and with your ability to interact with people who are different from yourself.

Thin slicing in a blink has an impact on how you develop friendships with people at work. It affects your networking and business relationship building. It affects who you believe in a work disagreement or confrontation. It affects how you build an effective, cohesive work team and how you make your teams successful.

Controlling the Blink

Gladwell offers people hope. He believes that your awareness of the fact that you make snap (often unconscious) judgments about people and situations can provide the opportunity for controlling your “blink” response.

He cites, as an example, the fact that many try-outs for orchestras are now held with the applicant musicians playing behind a screen. All sexual, racial and physical characteristics are eliminated so selectors can concentrate on listening for the best musician.

At the same time, this ability you have as humans, to quickly make judgment calls, saves lives, provides interpersonal insight, recognizes fake artifacts, allows you to assess situations and take action quickly and can even predict the future of a relationship.

So, it’s not an ability you want to discard, even if your first snap decisions or judgment calls can also be terribly wrong.

The key is to stay constantly aware of your ability to thin-slice and think without thinking. Gladwell participated in an experiment to test whether he would respond more positively to images of white people with positive or negative words describing them or pictures of black people with positive or negative words associated with the image.

Of course, as most people would, he predicted that there would be no difference in the time it took him to assign positive and negative words to the pictures of black or white people. He was wrong. The test results indicated a subtle preference to associate positive words with images of white people.

Gladwell was particularly struck by the results of this test as his mother is Jamaican and he would have expected himself to be more color blind. He cites similar results of tests that assign gender-biased words such as "entrepreneur or homemaker", with male and female connotations in our culture, to pictures of males and females.

Applying Gladwell’s "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" in Your Life

The key and important take away from the book is the necessity for each of you to be aware of and control your thin-slicing. After reading or hearing about "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking," you need to become more convinced than ever that you make snap decisions about situations and people, unconsciously, that brings into play all of your biases.

All candidates for positions deserve the same treatment and the same attention to factors other than race, religion, appearance and weight or size. They deserve your undivided attention to determining whether they are the best available candidate to fill your job opening most successfully.

Any decisions that you make based on your thin-slicing must be accompanied by the recognition that you do make important decisions using this process—unconsciously. Take the time to gather a larger pool of data before going with your initial gut reaction. While you may be right, you also can be quite wrong.

And, there is the constant opportunity to unconsciously discriminate, make poor hiring and networking choices and to trust or distrust employee stories for all of the wrong reasons. You are challenged to work with people who are not just like you. After you notice the differences (blink), you need to constantly demonstrate that you honor and appreciate their differences.

At the same time, Gladwell tells his readers not to endlessly develop more and more information. Sometimes, you need to trust the "blink", the thin-slice decisions that you make.

He gives, as one example, the story of the Getty Museum buying an ancient Greek kouros which turned out to be a more modern forgery. Many outside experts were consulted and scientists tested the material of the kouros for authenticity. The outside expert information pointed to an authentic statue.

Others, more involved in the art and collectibles industry, had reservations about the ten million dollar kouros. One expert cited the kouros as looking too fresh. Another objected saying, "You haven't purchased this yet, have you." They "thin-sliced" their view of the kouros and found something that was not right.

Gladwell encourages people to cultivate their ability to thin-slice by spending time with people who are not just like you. If our thin-slicing, snap judgments involve things such as artworks or situations such as burning buildings, confrontations with suspected law-breakers and/or instantaneous assessments of safety situations at work, total immersion in the field helps as do years of experience and study.

You'll want to purchase and read the book, "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking." It has serious implications for all people every day at work and in your personal lives as well. The implications of thin slicing for HR professionals are even more significant since you are the keepers of the people and the culture flames.

You will also want to take a look at Malcolm Gladwell’s earlier book, "The Tipping Point."

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