First Impressions Count

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

Within just 10 minutes of meeting, people decide what kind of relationship they want with a new acquaintance.” (“Study: First Ten Minutes After Meeting May Guide Future of Relationship,” Ohio State University Research News)

Face it. We’re a judgmental bunch. We’d all like to believe otherwise—it’s more in keeping with our moral code to assert that we’re open to everything, that we could befriend anyone. And maybe some of you can. But if science is accurate, we decide who deserves our time pretty quickly out of the gate.

According to research conducted at Ohio State and published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships a few years back, we have a ten minute window in which to win over—or repel—a friend. It’s not so short that we’re going on looks alone, but it’s hardly long enough to get deep into the core of someone’s personality.

And once you’ve made the snap decision of where you want the relationship to go—BFFs, frenemies, civil acquaintances—you can’t help but lead it there.

“If I think we could become friends, I’ll communicate more, tell you more about myself and do things that will help ensure a friendship does develop. If I have a more negative prediction about a future relationship, then I will restrict communication and make it harder for a friendship to develop,” study co-author Artemio Ramirez, Jr. told the Ohio State Research News.

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been guilty of this. It can be an especially alluring trap when you’re meeting people one-on-one for the sole purpose of assessing potential friendship. Take my improv class. I have to do scenes with a person regardless of whether I like him, so there’s less pressure on sizing up where I want our personal relationship to go. But when it’s just me and a PBFF sitting across the table on a first girl-date, we’re obviously feeling each other out, mapping our entire future together.

It’d be more fun if we could speak this aloud, at least the positive reactions. I have new friends to whom, upon first meeting, I would have very much liked to say “You seem like the kind of pal I could have a slumber party with.” ‘Cause that doesn’t reek of creepy predator.

Of course, knowing me as you all do, I’m sure you’ve already figured that, sometimes, I do say this.

In fact, reaction to a slumber party invite might be the very thing to make this judgment even more quickly (and accurately?). Cowering in horror? Maybe we’re not the best fit. Clapping wildly with excitement? This could go somewhere.

Have you been guilty of the 10-minute judgment? Was your initial assessment accurate? Do you have a trick for avoiding the 10-minute trap?

12 Comments

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12 responses to “First Impressions Count

  1. Christina

    I’m so guilty of this! And it can seem judgmental, and sometimes I feel a twinge of guilt about it, but I think it’s about more than simply making a snap decision: we’re trying to make smart decisions. There simply isn’t enough time in a day to befriend everyone we meet – and do it well. It doesn’t mean I don’t like a person. I believe it goes back to being drawn to someone whom you have things in common with.

    I also think it’s about drawing upon what we’ve learned from past experiences and applying it now so as to make the best possible decisions. Your sense of humor, for example, I get it, AND I love it. I share it; I remember how disappointing it has been when someone finds it odd instead of fun and quirky. I just met someone that shares the same sense of humor, is a bibliophile, and loves fashion. Each time we’ve talked or have seen each other, we’re in stitches. PBFF? Absolutely.

  2. I always think it would be easier if we could walk up to people and say “Hello. Would you like to be my biffle?” (bff-le)

    • Lorrie Paige

      A talk show host said she once shared a cab in NYC with a stranger who was new to the City.

      They made small talk while in the cab, and then the stranger said something like, “I’m new to NYC and have no friends. I’m just wondering would you like to hang out with me sometimes and be a friend to me?”

      The talk show host was surprised by this but really admired her for her guts to say this. They did hang out and became friends. The stranger-turned-friend then later moved to LA. They never were that close the talk show host said, but still they keep in touch via email.

      Sometimes you just have to go for it. No guts. No glory.

  3. Emily

    I think Christina’s absolutely right when she says that our snap judgments can be made from drawing upon what we’ve learned from past experiences and applying it now so as to make the best possible decisions. I think these quick decisions might be our subconscious processing what we’re seeing and comparing it to past experiences faster than our conscious mind recognizes.

    I’ve recently had the experience of making a quick judgment about not wanting to be close friends with someone and then having circumstances override my initial judgment. While for a while I was happy to have been wrong and gained an unexpected friend, this person has just recently proved that I was right in my initial assessment, and I could have saved myself a bit of stress and heartache (friendache?) if I’d been able to stick to my original judgment. So while it pains me to think of myself as judgmental, I’m not sure what to do with this new experience. Do I accept that I’m judgmental and be okay with it? That hurts. Do I dig my heels in and insist I’m not, even in the face of this evidence? Do I totally disregard my snap judgments in the future and potentially court friendache if it turns out I was right? Oh the hurdles of friendmaking…

    • To be honest, I don’t think there’s really anything wrong with making these judgments in the early stages. Sure, sometimes we are proven wrong… but as you and Christina say these judgments are made using experiences and knowledge of ourselves. It’s not like writing someone off because of their looks. You meet someone and you either have that click or you don’t.. It’s like Malcolm Gladwell’s BLINK, which is very pro-gut instinct and snap judgment…

      • Lorrie Paige

        From my years of research on friendship, I find most BFF relationships happen pretty fast; they just know immediately (like within 15 minutes) they are going to be very good friends. As I’ve said before–either here or on my site–it’s like a “love at first sight” platonic friendship.

        The relationships where there is initial dislike or hate then later they become the bestest of friends are mostly found in Hollywood films, IMO.

  4. Suzannah

    To be honest, I think if we could look objectively at our lives and the decisions we make, almost all of our choices are based on momentary gut reactions….but I have come to trust this part of myself, more so as I age..
    I think of this part of me …as intuition…not so much judgement…judgement imples to me a ruling against a person…the decisions I am making are in regards to myself, and what I feel will be beneficial to myself…such as pursueing a friendship or not with a person…

    Emily,To thy own self be true.

    • Christina

      Well put! Trusting our intuition is important. We do it when dating, with our potential boyfriends/husbands; why wouldn’t we do it with pbffs?

      I had a friend many years ago that drank way too much and made one bad (and even dangerous) decision after another, and I found that all of her friends, myself included, became personal counselors. It was emotionally taxing.

      A couple of weeks ago I met a sweet and funny woman, I mentally categorized her as an acquaintance rather than a PBFF when she shared that her favorite drink was “whiskey over water.” Her words. Some life decisions she was making mirrored that of the woman from my past. Drinking into the wee hours of the night just doesn’t fit into my life, so I feel sometimes these assessments can be healthy for us.

      • Lorrie Paige

        Be it intuition or judging, we all do it all the time. Judging isn’t always a bad word, as it can and does help to keep us alive or from harm.

        But yes, Suzannah made some good points.

        I tend to use both intuition and judgment when meeting potential friends. And I’m happy to use the 10-minute check out.

        Plus, I’m a huge believer in if we were meant to be friends, it’ll happen (as long as we are both open to making friendships), and it’ll happen quickly like as I researched.

        I think the longer a friendship takes to possibly happen, the less likely it will happen. Like two girls in my meditation class that were potential friends about a month ago; no progress, so I’ve, for the most part, have written them off.

  5. Ana

    I agree with everyone who mentioned that our “snap” judgements are in fact based on past experiences (and trying to avoid making the same mistakes regarding friendships)
    But this also made me paranoid about what kind of first impression I might be sending out, particularly since I tend to make awkward jokes when I am nervous!

    …On the other hand, anyone that can’t handle that probably isn’t meant to be a BFF, so I won’t worry about it after all.

    • Suzannah

      Oh’ Ana, I am totally feeling ya!…I hate that at 35, I still get nervous, and it Shows!!!…but what am I gonna do?..gotta be me!

  6. Pingback: The Hard Facts: Why The First Meeting Matters Most | MWF Seeking BFF

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