Saturday, July 14, 2018

Fairy tales about first impressions

One common piece of advice on communication (and to speakers) is you only have a few minutes (or seconds) to make a first impression on your audience. For example, a blog post on August 3, 2015 by Amanda Johns Vaden titled The Nuts and Bolts of First Impressions said:

“The Harvard Study of Communications claimed that it only takes seven seconds for you to make a first impression on another human being, only seven seconds.

…. In fact, one of the parts of this study actually says that 38% of what makes up a first impression is how you sound. Only 7% of a first impression are the words you say. So all together, only 45% of a first impression has anything to do with the words coming out of your mouth. That leaves 55% of a first impression to visual. It’s how you look, it’s how you dress. It’s how you stand. It’s how you shake a hand. It’s if you make solid eye contact. It’s your personal appearance.

…. Not only does it take seven seconds to make a first impression, they also found that on average, it takes meeting that same person seven more times to change that first impression that you made on them.”

That Harvard Study of Communications sounds impressive, but it’s just a Nebulously Authoritative Place (NAP). She didn’t say if it was a book, a report, or a magazine article, who wrote it, or when it was published. I went to my local public library web site and searched all of the databases at EBSCOhost for the exact phrases ‘Harvard Study of Communications’ and also ‘Harvard Study on Communications’ but came up empty. It’s apparently a fairy tale, just like the claim that men think about sex every seven seconds.

Did someone else say that it takes seven seconds to make a first impression? Yes, Roger Ailes (1940 – 2017) did three decades ago in the very first chapter of a book titled You Are the Message: secrets of the master communicators. Cheryl Dahle discussed it in an article at Fast Company on May 31, 1998 titled Your first seven seconds. John Zimmer also blogged about it on October 22, 2010 in a post in his Manner of Speaking blog similarly titled The First Seven Seconds. Lately few quote Mr. Ailes, after he had resigned from Fox News in July 2016 amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

How about 7% of an impression being the words? That really comes from Albert Mehrabian, who was at UCLA – about 2600 miles away from Harvard. I blogged about it back on July 25, 2009 in a post titled Bullfighting the Mehrabian myth.

An image of a fairy in happy far away land was adapted from one at Wikimedia Commons.

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