The term cognitive miser was first used by Susan Fiske and Shelley Taylor in Social Cognition (1991). The theory suggests that, as humans, we value our mental processing resources so much that we find ways to save time and effort when negotiating the social world. In other words, we take shortcuts when it comes to thinking and processing information.
Not only are we ‘lazy thinkers’, we form first impressions quickly, choosing to make them lasting ones.
“Our brains are very reluctant to change an impression once it’s formed.” Dr. Heidi Grant
As cognitive misers, we are:
- Quick to Perceive
- Quick to Believe What We Perceive
- Quick to Deny That Our Minds Might Deceive
And yet, we can all name a time (or times) when our first impression of others was wrong – and our second impression couldn’t quite convince us to change our mind about it. Unfortunately, that’s human nature. Fortunately, you have the power to change it!
What Others See
What do you think people see when meeting you for the first time? Wouldn’t it be nice if others could see the real you? If you’re laughing out loud right now, you’re not alone. Most of us are about as transparent as a wet blanket while working extremely hard to prove to everyone that we’re anything BUT.
You may even know people who easily take on a totally different personality depending on the setting. Happy-go-lucky at the mall, sarcastic on the tennis courts, quiet and insecure during business meetings.
So…how do we ever know the real person ‘behind the blanket’?
Getting to know people is a process that involves building relationships. Unfortunately, in the fast-paced work environment where most of us spend a great deal of our time, it’s easier to form first impressions than it is to form friendships. And that’s where we usually go wrong.
What others see in you may surprise you. Making a good first impression can go a long way – but your goal should be to make a great lasting impression; an authentic impression that you can actually live up to!
What You See
While you can’t always control how others view you, you can work to improve what you see in others.
- Don’t fall into the trap of making a first impression and keeping it.
- Be generous toward others when it comes to how you perceive them and what you believe about them.
- Give others the opportunity to prove themselves; who they really are.
If you’re responsible for hiring employees or decision making, your influence can impact the entire organization. And quite often in the corporate setting, making a decision requires quick and effective action.
When first impressions and quick judgment calls are necessary, you need to be able to rely on what you see, what is before you in that particular moment – and this takes skill.
Overcoming the Cognitive Miser
World-class orchestras make candidates play behind a screen, so that sex, race, age and appearance play no part in their decision. (STR Team, 9/23/2013) What a great idea!
In case you are not an orchestra conductor, here are some tips for helping you to overcome wrong first impressions for lasting success in your work – and in your life.
Right or wrong, first impressions matter. How you make them and form them are both important to your success.
- Value everyone’s time – including your own
- Value the ideas and plans of others when sharing your own
- Value the needs of others, demonstrate your willingness to be supportive
- Value the knowledge and skills of others without downplaying your own abilities
- Value the standards of others, consistently maintaining your own integrity
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