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August 3, 2012
Overcoming Negative First Impressions of New Coworkers
 
Have you ever been at the office when a “new” person arrives, and you find yourself making an immediate snap judgment about this person? It could be their hair. It could be their body language. It could be how they speak. It could be what they say.

But something about them gives you cause to make certain assumptions. I am just as guilty. I recall that while in college at the beginning of the new year in the dorm, we had a meeting with everyone who lived on that wing. There was one gal sitting off the side, by herself, who had a sour, pouty look on her face. She didn’t make any kind of eye contact or smile, and you could tell by the way she was dressed that she was quite affluent.
 
My first impression: “Boy, this gal is a piece of work. She’s totally snooty.” I was completely intimidated by her; by how she looked and the ooze of attitude coming off of her.
 
The reality: She turned out to be one of the nicest, sweetest people you’d ever meet. She was painfully shy and since it was her first year of college, she had been dreading this wing meeting in the dorm.
 
Touché.
 
The problem is that snap judgments usually turn out to be wrong…most of the time. But we still make those assumptions. We can’t help it; it’s human nature to try and sort new things we encounter into folders for things that we already know.
 
When this happens in the workplace and we meet new people that fit old molds, the problems these assumptions cause can be felt immediately.
 
Why? Because people aren’t very good about concealing their feelings. If you instantly don’t like someone, you don’t usually take any pains to hide how you feel. When taken in a work context, the new coworker absolutely senses the hostility vibe coming off of you. That can, in turn, affect how they feel and think about you.
 
End result: You’ve got a negative working relationship developing before you even gave it a shot.
 
So how can you overcome these impressions? Here are some tips:
  1. Don’t let previous experiences with similar personalities shape your judgment about this person.
  2. In the moment that you make a snap judgment about this person, realize that you are doing so and back away from it. Let the person have a chance to overcome your initial impression.
  3. Take the time to get to know them. The more you try to reach out to them, the more you overcome any barriers that your knee-jerk reaction might have set into place.
  4. Be open and reserve judgment.
  5. Break the ice first. Maybe you have intimidated them and are causing them to act in a way that, in turn, reflects something back to you that you don’t like.
Don’t let previous experiences, misconceptions, and immediate knee-jerk reactions taint your perception of a new coworker. 
 
Give them a chance. 
 
They might just give you a chance, too.

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Dawn Rasmussen, CMP, is the president of Portland, Ore.-based Pathfinder Writing and Careers, which specializes in mid- to upper-management résumés. She is an active volunteer in her community and donates her time teaching a résumé writing class at the Oregon Employment Department every week to help empower unemployed professionals and workers.
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