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First Impression Story Contest

I was seventeen and a starry eyed poetry major in college when I went to the English Department lounge to hear a well-known author read from his latest novel. When I first saw him he was standing at the front of the room surrounded by students. He was leaning towards the circle of kids.  He was really looking at them and engaged with them. I was immediately impressed. He was this big author but wasn’t hiding back stage or going over his notes and he really seemed happy to be there with us. During his speech he didn’t just make eye contact he lingered on our faces as if he wanted to remember every feature.  He said he would be happy to talk with us and look at our work after his speech.  I waited for my turn and he sat with me on a sofa and took the time to read two of my poems and give me feedback and as we talked again I was so impressed with how connected his voice got light and high like mine.  He even seemed to be breathing with me. His first impression has stayed with me and I have held his behavior as a model for how to be and stay connected. Oh by the way, if you read his novels, John Irving’s characters struggle to be connected and his description of their body language is extraordinary. I think he truly does remember every feature on every face of every person he has ever met.

Do you have a First Impression story?

Can you take a moment to send me a one or two paragraph story from your life that could possibly be in my new book?  If you have time I would love them by Friday, December 16th. It doesn't need to be in fancy language, just a story from experience.  I am specifically looking for nonverbal cues that effected your perception, such as specific facial expressions, or stance or gestures.

Have you ever met someone you immediately liked?  Perhaps there was something about their body language, eye contact, facial expression, gestures, touch, voice or presence that made you like them immediately or something made you think, I don’t like them or I don’t trust them or  perhaps you remember a time when you made a good or bad impression on someone.    If you formed an impression and you were not face to face with the person say , over the phone or through the email or text please give details of the communication that led to your impression and then what happened in that interaction and if you had other interactions what happened.

I have written two stories for examples and one a Judge from my Deception Detection program sent me

Example 1

Years ago I worked at a big firm. The first time I met the president he hurried through the greeting, shook my hand, gave me a plastic grin, didn’t’ make eye contact and said, “How ya’ feeling?”  He then walked away before I got my answer out.  I thought what a big ego. For all the years I worked for the firm he would see people in the halls, give a big plastic smile, greet them and say, “How Ya’ feeling?’ and quickly move on. Even if he saw you three times in one day, he would repeat the same fake greeting ritual. In all those years of smiling and saying, “How ya’ feeling?” he never once stopped to hear my answer. My first impression was correct.

Example 2

There are some people that have a good first impression at the beginning of every interaction. As a PHD student, I would walk into the Dean of the Communication Department's office to meet with Dean Clevenger sure of the impression he would give.  I knew he would smile, get up from his desk in a good mood and walk around to shake my hand truly glad to see me. I knew even though he was a busy man, he would always take his time and have me sit down. I never felt rushed, instead I felt absolutely relaxed, as if he had all the time in the world and I was an important person. He would look at me and lean forward and actively listen to what I had to say. He was open. His face never scrunched up or frowned with hints of displeasure or judgment. He gave direction and advice that I could count on.  Dean Clevenger had immense credibility.

Example 3

As a circuit judge, I read first impressions in traffic court.  One day in my traffic court I had someone ticketed for running a stop sign. I tend to access someone immediately if the person appears 1. Guilty 2. Guilty, but he or she won't tell a bold lie, they feel bad or 3. Innocent.   I looked at the guy and saw that he was nervous, but his chin was not up and cocky like a lot of the guys I see. He could make eye contact with me, but he then breaks it and looks down.  So I looked at him and my gut said, this guy is a 2 - Guilty but willing to learn a lesson.  Sure enough, during testimony he said, "I don't FEEL I ran the stop sign."  I interpreted his nonverbal vocal emphasis on the word FEEL to mean he knew he might have run the stop sign.

So I had him take a video camera and tape 10 to 15 cars going through that intersection with the stop sign then come back to court. He came back in after viewing the video and my first impression that day in court was he was contrite. He looked down, his mouth was turned down, his arms were down and he held his one hand folded in the other below his waist. In a soft voice, filled with a mixture of wonder at the facts and embarrassment at his mistake he said, “I watched those other cars run that stop sign and I realized I had run it too." I feel it is my job not to merely punish people but ultimately to make them better citizens in the future. In his case, I was glad he learned something and admitted his guilt and I let him off with a warning.