We’ve all heard about the importance of first impressions and I think that most of us strive to make good ones with the people we meet. What happens a bit more subconsciously is the first impression that we convey about others to people who have not yet encountered that someone in person. While we may share our opinions as part of casual conversation, these initial impressions often have a lasting imprint that colors future relationships or trust levels, even though the comment was not intended to have such weight.

For example, if a friend tells me that she doesn’t like the new boyfriend of another person, a seed of doubt is planted in my mind before I ever meet him. If a colleague remarks that something didn’t sit right with her in an interview, I have a moment’s hesitation about the person when he is ultimately hired. If someone shares a negative first impression about their boss, I need to erase that impression and overwrite it with the positives from my first encounter rather than starting with a blank slate. And if someone is giddy about their new partner, I go into the meeting with trust that may not be warranted.

What goes on the canvas first often colors the rest of the painting. Use extra caution with your comments about people or situations and allow others to paint their own first impressions instead of shading them with secondhand ones.

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