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Time to Rethink Those First Impressions

GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: Thinking Over Your First Impressions by Samuel Barondes author of, "Making Sense of People: Decoding the Mysteries of Personality."

When we meet someone new we immediately form a tentative picture of his or her personality. We create this first impression in a matter of seconds because we need it to guide to the way we engage the person. To assemble this impression so quickly we use the rapid integrative capacities of our unconscious mind.

Our amazing ability to rapidly size people up works so well that we continue to rely on it as we get to know the person better. In doing this we keep building a more elaborate intuitive impression—an impression of personality that we rarely bother to consciously examine. Although we may spend hours methodically assessing a new smartphone before deciding what we think of it, our assessment of a person keeps being made by the seat of our pants.

There are, of course, times when we try to consciously consider the personality of someone in our lives. In many such cases we are mainly interested in figuring out why we aren’t getting along, which we often talk over with our friends. But the problem with these conversations is that few of us have been taught a systematic way to assess personalities. Instead we may keep shifting between a contradictory mixture of religious, moral, literary and psychological ideas that are hard to apply in an orderly manner. This limits our ability to come up with a thoughtful appraisal, even with the assistance of those who are eager to help us.

In my new book, "Making Sense of People", I describe a system for examining intuitive impressions by consciously assessing the personality of anyone who interests you. With this system you and your friends can discuss the many observations you’ve made, and come up with a clearer and more useful picture. The system begins by helping you to thoughtfully assess basic traits such as sociability, warmth, competence, emotional stability and intellectual style. You will then be ready to look for signs of troublesome patterns such as compulsiveness, narcissism, sociopathy and paranoia, to see if the person expresses one or more of them, and to consider how this may be affecting you. Having clarified these matters will put you into a good position to make a moral appraisal of the person’s character, using both universally accepted standards as well as your own personal standards. You will also learn how to put this all together with what you know about the person’s view of who he or she really is, a sense of identity that includes personal goals and life plan.

Making sense of people in this systematic way will not only help you understand them better. It may also influence the way you choose to engage with them. Furthermore, this system will enhance your appreciation of everyone you meet in the same way that knowing a lot about wine, or music, or baseball, provides the added pleasure that comes from thoughtful attention to details. Showing you how to go beyond your first impressions of people, and augmenting your pleasure and effectiveness in dealing with them, is the main aim of this book.

Dr. Barondes is the author of "Making Sense of People: Decoding the Mysteries of Personality." and a leading psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the University of California San Francisco’s School of Medicine. He was recently featured in the New York Times article,A Sexist Pig Myth. Dr. Barondes is an authority in understanding why people act the way they do, what their behavior really means, and how to interact positively with them.

Email me at bullishonbooks@cnbc.comAnd follow me on Twitter @BullishonBooks