First Impressions Last: Jean Chow
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MHSc in Translational Research

Jean Chow for the TRP | February 2021

Do first impressions matter? At the risk of speaking to an empty room, I usually greet my audience “So you’ve already made up your mind whether you like me or not.  And if not, here’s your chance to exit but I do hope you’ll stay.” According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of five New York Times bestsellers, Canadian journalists, and the University of Toronto Alumni, our first impressions are formed in two seconds and this is known as “rapid cognition”.

 In his 2005 book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”, Gladwell goes on to say through rapid cognition, our decisions are based on our experience, intuition, and what little data we have at the time. So first impressions matter. A lot.

What do you notice first? Eyes, smile, gender, or age? Some say gender and wonder “Will I be safe?”. Others can’t pinpoint one specific attribute while some say a smile and a facial expression. My default is age as I’m conscious of finding ways to relate to people.

Last month, I polled our Dream Network Drop-in, a community of professionals who practices speed-networking, and the results show they notice their partner’s overall physical attributes and energy first and then gender.

What do you notice first? Are you concerned if you are making a good first impression? How do you determine whether you want to follow up or not with someone you’ve just met?

Lasting Impressions Matter

In “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?”, author-actor, Alan Alda, shares an anecdote about his dental appointment gone awry because he failed to communicate his concerns to his dentist. His solution? Alda helped found the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University in New York, and share their research with universities and medical schools across the U.S. and overseas.

Empathy is “the key, the fundamental ingredient without which real communication can’t happen”. As an Emmy award-winning actor, Alda makes a compelling case of using improvisation (improv) in developing deeper empathy and recognizing what the other person is thinking and feeling which is what this book is about. “Relating is everything.”

Show Up: The First Hack of “Five Hacks for Fearless Networking” ©

Improv brings a certain level of self-awareness and helps us develop poise under pressure. Hack #1 (there are five) is about “showing up”, overcoming fear, and gaining perspective.

When we do anything for the first time, we may feel queasy and uneasy because:

  • we’re not particularly good at it.
  • we don’t know the outcome or the results.
  • it feels strange and foreign.
  • it’s completely outside our comfort zone.

How do we overcome our fears and “Show Up”? Recognizing and naming our fears is a good start. When meeting someone new, we may experience:

  • fear of being vulnerable.
  • fear of social rejection.
  • fear of not making a connection.
  • fear of failure.
  • fear of disapproval.
  • fear of loss of image.

According to Susan Jeffers in “Feel the Fear … and Do It Anyway”, the above fears are “Level 2 Fears” and they have to do with our “inner states of mind rather than exterior situations”.

In our “Hacking the Networking Code” course, we perform a series of “mental gymnastics” and discuss different case studies dealing with fear to help us go beyond our comfort zone. We learn how to overcome our fears, gain more perspective, and develop greater empathy. Having empathy is the key to effective communication. Seek to understand in making first impressions last and making lasting impressions matter.

“What you suffer when you stay in fear is worse than facing the fear itself.” ~Dr. Susan Jeffers

“Do or do not. There is no try.” ~ Yoda

Jean is a part-time Sessional Lecturer and teaches “Hacking the Networking Code” with the Translational Research Program. Improv is her “secret weapon” in how to network fearlessly. She is also is an international business and career coach. You can find her on