First Impressions Matter: Decoding the Layers of Life

By Sabrina Bong — It is said that we take just 30 seconds to determine whether we like a person or not. In those brief, fleeting moments, we make an impression on others. It may be good; it may be bad. But first impressions are not always the best way to judge a person.

Recently, the School Counseling cohort talked and laughed about the first impressions that we made on each other back during our admissions interview. When we first met in March, we began forming ideas and opinions of each other. There were some people that we were extremely intimidated by during the interview process. There were some that we thought were really friendly. We thought there were people who really didn’t have their heart in the interview, and some people that we really didn’t know what to think.

Of course, as we went through Orientation and made our way through classes, we realized that some of our first impressions were not completely correct. And though we tease each other about being intimidating, or about certain extracurricular activities that we did in undergrad, we are all friends. We get along pretty well. We changed our thinking to realize that our first snap judgments were not necessarily accurate.

It is the same way with counseling. When we first meet students or clients, we may automatically create an opinion on the person sitting before us. From the minute they walk through our doorway, we are guessing what this person’s story may be. Before the person even opens their mouth and starts to explain why he or she is there, we have a judgment formed.

It can be a handy tool sometimes. Our first impressions – those gut instincts – can be very helpful. If we are walking down a dark alleyway and see someone approach us, making that snap judgment helps us determine whether we should keep walking down the alley, or flee from the situation. If we see suspicious bruises on a child and suspect child abuse, we should listen to our gut and report it.

But when they cloud our minds and threaten us with making incorrect assumptions, then they can be harmful. If a student walks into our office wearing all black and sporting multiple piercings, we should not automatically believe that they are gothic, or rebellious. Perhaps that is simply the way they are most comfortable. Maybe there is significance behind the piercings. We may guess that we know everything about our client the minute he or she tells us what they are struggling with, even though we may not have gotten the entire story. As counselors, we need to be vigilant in keeping our notions on individuals in check.

It is the process of re-evaluating your first initial perceptions that truly opens your eyes to how accurate – or inaccurate – your thought process is. We laugh about our first judgments on each other, on teachers, on Marquette University as a whole. But when it really matters, and we have a student in our office needing our help, we must look beyond that first opinion and do our best to take into account every aspect of that person before launching into counseling.

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