We are always told that first impressions shape how another person views you, and how you view another person. It greatly influences how others treat you in many contexts and it happens within the first few seconds (?).  And to an extent, that is true.

On the same token, you hear people say that you can’t really shape any sort of view of a person without knowing them, and that first impressions are often wrong.

Whatever the truth is between gut instinct, the 7 second first impression, and knowing someone, there is a dichotomy in how we go about meeting someone.

When you meet someone, the most common questions are:

  • Where are you from?
  • What do you do?

We do this because we try to get an indicator of someones life in the quickest way possible that is socially acceptable. But there is a flaw.

In an excellent TED yesterday on philisophies of life, Botton somewhat addresses this.  These are poor questions because these questions set us up to judge who someone is and what that person likes and enjoys, but really both of those questions say almost nothing about the person – what they care about, what they’ve done in their lives, what values they hold, their hobbies, etc.  Considering that most people don’t enjoy their job and the work they do, using it as any sort of indicator is a foggy one to say the least.

The “where are you from?” question, while a curious one, is even a worse indicator in that where you are from says little about you, contrary to what many people think.  It sets us up to have biases about the person based off where they’re from, when that is a bias that should be reduced as much as possible.

These basic questions that always start conversations take a small part of you and is then used to identify who you are. We do this because we have to, to an extent, because we often don’t have hours to chat to each person. A first impression has to be created somehow. But these are obviously poor questions to ask.

So if our goal when meeting someone is to try to understand who they are, why are we asking the wrong questions?

This is quite fascinating to think that humans want to meet and interact with each other, but we’re more often than not doing it in a way that doesn’t make sense.  Next time you start a conversation, avoid the 2 obvious and expected questions and ask something unique like “what do you like to do in your free time, what values do you hold, or what are your goals?”.  It might lead to more interesting, useful, and connecting conversations.