Getting to know you

This picture was taken one of the first nights I had Grace. Two immediate reminders of her in those early days are the harness and her withdrawn posture. She wore this harness for the first month or so because she had slipped out of her collar when living at her foster home, and literally would not come back inside for two weeks. I always kept her on her leash with this harness in the beginning to insure that she couldn’t escape from me! She was definitely unsure of her new home and very cautious around me. She did find that stuffed giraffe and had placed it where it is; I felt she wanted to have a friend or two!

Memories of the first time you meet someone linger. Those initial moments create an emotion that sticks with us. Quite often, we then allow our mind to focus on that (good or bad) feeling, and it builds into an elaborate impression, reinforcing and rationalizing our first instinct.

I remember talking to the woman, Denise, who was fostering Grace when I called to ask about meeting this small, cute, lovable-looking dog I had found online. Before she even agreed to have me come over, she forewarned me that Grace would not be friendly, nor would she come to me; she would probably be very withdrawn from me. Now, if you’re thinking about adopting a dog, you hope the dog will like you, right? Yet, Denise did the right thing by giving me this information as it was a huge help to have that guidance; otherwise I can easily envision that my first impression of Grace would have been unfavorable.

How many times do we, as humans, have a guardian angel helping pave our way so that others can better understand us? Wouldn’t it be cool if we had someone ahead of us sharing our own personal quirks and preferences so that the exchange would go smoothly?

Since that’s not realistic, my thought is that we should remain open to any first impression we have. Good or bad. We just don’t have enough information to make a judgment that quickly. When we are open to the possibility that the person may be more than what we see at first, we expand our opportunity to see the hidden gems (or quirks!) of their personality.

It’s very important to notice what we experience so I’m not suggesting we disregard our intuition; however evaluating a pattern of behavior will lead us to a more accurate assessment. It will also result in a more constructive relationship in the long run, when we can openly acknowledge, build upon, and develop the strengths and challenges that we each bring to any interaction.

Smart Tips Served Straight to Your Inbox

Want to build healthy, productive workplace relationships??? Join our community of Graceful Leaders/Managers and get access to tips, insights, and resources right in your inbox.

BONUS: Sign up now and receive a FREE animal-inspired gift: “3 Management Tips from Dog!"

Share with a friend using one of the buttons below. Then sign up so you can receive stories, tips, and guidance to help you develop healthy workplace relationships in your organization!


  1. didiwright on May 6, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Grace has progressed and flourished so much since you’ve got her, and that’s a credit to your love and effort. The distance between the fearful and insecure dog she seems to be in that picture and the lively, happy, agility-loving dog she is now is huge. So well done to you both, I didn’t realise how ‘bad’ she was until today.
    Not judging on first impressions…Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if that happened? I am constantly aware that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but how far do you go with giving people a chance (or second chance) to prove who they are, and when do you start going with your instinct? This is what I find the most difficult. I have strong instincts and tend to trust and rely on them a lot. At the same time, the voice of reason tells me that my decisions should be made on reasoning and evidence, and not an emotional response. Both my instincts and my reason have served me well, but also failed me at times. So it’s a tough one, really, and I haven’t made up my mind which is best.

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on May 7, 2011 at 11:24 am

      Great insight, as always. It is a very hard balance to strike and I don’t think there is a science that will allow us to know whether to go more with emotion or more with fact when building our opinions. It seems the real answer is to use both, and to be open to knowing that sometimes we’ll be right and sometimes we’ll be wrong. For me, an ideal situation is when I can be aware of signals and continue to build new opinions on top of the ones I have, always being fluid enough to recognize when I need to change my opinion. And, to be fair to that person, I need to make sure to acknowledge something good (or problematic) about them if it contradicts the overall impression I have. For a person who has strong and reliable instincts, I say use ’em to their fullest. Just be sure not to ignore other data points that can give a fuller picture. I very much appreciate you adding to the conversation, Didi.

  2. lifewith4cats on May 6, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Both you and Didi had excellent thoughts here. Im looking forward to your reply. I tend to go always with my first impression. Nut as you said, Thats not always beneficial or wise. Im a good judge of character. But I have been wrong at times. Its easier when I have an instant negative reaction. I take that as my que to look further and deeper. But if my first impression is favorable, then I dont question it, and find perhaps I should have.

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on May 7, 2011 at 11:39 am

      I agree, Sara, I’ve definitely been wrong and when I look back to understand those times better, I jumped to a conclusion too quickly because I “ran” with all the good things I saw and refused to allow any “red flags” enter into my thought process. I can distinctly remember a time several years ago when I was helping a client interview a candidate. Everyone on the interview team was over the moon about this guy, he seemed perfect in every sense. I let that wave of emotion take hold because there was one particular sentence he gave as part of an answer to a question and I had this fleeeting thought: “That’s odd.” I didn’t like the tone or the words in his response, but I let it pass and didn’t dig deeper, nor did I mention to others to get their reaction. Turned out the person was a horrible fit for the job and as I thought about that one tiny glimpse into his personality, I missed it. But it was key. It was a lesson I keep in mind as I interview candidates now. So I can totally understand what you’ve said about how we tend not to dig more if our impression is favorable. I’m not trying to suggest that we dig for issues everytime we meet someone, but just knowing that it’s important to recognize signs for what they are. Grace helps me remember to be cautious since she’s naturally fearful of everything new. And hopefully I’ve helped her learn to trust. Both are valuable.

  3. didiwright on May 8, 2011 at 6:52 am

    I’m with you both on this one. I also tend to let my guard down easier when I get positive vibes from someone. And I have been caught out at times, too. But we learn from our mistakes, don’t we, so I’m trying harder to find the balance between instinct and evidence.

  4. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide on May 16, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Your dogs are just adorable. My wife and I have two, a mutt from the pound and a mutt that someone abandoned after a flea market. He and his litter mates didn’t sell. I’m like you, can’t imagine a house without a dog.

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on May 16, 2011 at 1:14 pm

      I think mutts are awesome. When I think of it, the mixed heritages of humans makes us that much more interesting, too!

Leave a Comment