Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
Accuracy of Impressions
In the late 19th century, French artist Claude Monet became famous for capturing the impression of a moment through his oil paintings. Monet's impressionist paintings caused quite a stir and got people thinking about how we perceive the world around us and about how we form impressions, or superficial subconscious evaluations of a moment. Impressions are like the study guide notes of our realities - they're quick summaries that don't provide much depth but give you enough information to interact. This is actually a pretty important part of perception.
Like a Monet painting, our impressions represent a fleeting and blurred depiction of people, places, and events. They're not enough to help you make out important details, but they are enough for your mind to figure out what's going on. Still, since they are so important, we want them to be accurate. Today, we're going to talk about how to increase the accuracy of our impressions when we meet other people. And it is possible - with practice, your impressions can become much more reliable. Get the picture?
Analyze Your Impressions
Let's start with one of the most basic ways to increase the accuracy of our impressions. Impression analysis is very simply logically evaluating your impressions. Our impressions are based in emotions - what we want, need, fear, hope, etc. So, a logical analysis brings this back into the realm of rational, rather than emotional thinking. It's a 2-step process. First, when you meet someone new, you've got to be aware that you are forming impressions. Now, you are constantly forming impressions, so it's an automatic and subconscious process. Becoming consciously aware of it can be tricky.
The second step is being aware of factors that can influence your perception. Are you hungry, are you scared, do you have positive or negative memories with similar past experiences? Acknowledge your prejudices, and then analyze logically whether or not these are accurate in your current scenario.
Check Your Perceptions with Someone Else
Another way we can increase the accuracy of impressions is through perception checking, seeking clues to validate our perceptions. This is a verbal process that involves literally asking someone else if your impression of them is accurate. Admittedly, this process is easier to do with friends than strangers, but again, there are two steps. First, describe what you are perceiving. 'Hey, I noticed that you called me a lot yesterday, and today you seem unhappy.' That's an example of describing what you've observed.
The other step is confirmation. Basically, ask if your impression is accurate. 'Something's bothering you, isn't it?' Don't try and be a mind reader; don't assume that you know what's going on based on your impression. Your impressions can be great tools to pick up on clues about other people, but use them to get a conversation started.
When we form a first impression of another person, we make assumptions. We can't help it; uncertainty is part of the impression-forming process. That's why it's important to find out if our impressions are accurate. Reducing uncertainty simply means decreasing the number of factors we were uncertain about when we formed the impression.
You can reduce uncertainty about a person by simply getting to know them. Try asking the person questions to find out what's on his or her mind. You could also ask other people who know the person whether the type of behavior you've witnessed is normal or out of character. This process can help you decide whether or not your first impression was valid. If not, remind yourself that the impression was inaccurate, and let your mind form new impressions, using all of the new information you've gathered to clarify the things you didn't understand.
Increase Cultural Sensitivity
At some point, you're probably going to end up interacting with people from other cultures, people who don't share your background or customs or expectations. The differences between cultures can be a major cause of inaccurate impressions. So, naturally, one way to fix that is by increasing cultural sensitivity. This means acknowledging that different cultures interact differently, accepting that no one culture is better than any other, and learning what to expect from other cultures.
For example, maybe people in your culture are very expressive, so you're used to forming impressions based on facial expressions. However, let's say you visit another country where the people aren't like you're used to; they're very reserved. Their facial expressions are different, and you're having a hard time trying to figure out what they're really thinking and feeling. You'll need to find a way to understand something about their culture - their customs, their history, and their ways of relating, in order to begin to understand them and prevent yourself from forming inaccurate impressions.
Throughout our lives, we are constantly forming impressions, superficial subconscious evaluations of a moment. Impressions help our minds start to process information, but they can be inaccurate. Luckily, there are ways to increase the accuracy of an impression after you've already made it. Impression analysis involves logically evaluating the factors that could influence your perception. Perception checking means seeking external clues to validate our perceptions.
Uncertainty reduction is the process of decreasing the number of factors you were uncertain about when the impression was formed. Finally, you can increase cultural sensitivity, which involves becoming aware of how cultural factors can influence others' behaviors and your impressions. With these tools, you can ensure that your impressions are as accurate as possible. After all, while blurred lines and colors make for great oil painting, it's not necessarily how we want to see the world around us.
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