Understand how we got here — and how to move forward.


August 17, 2016

Why it's so tough to change a bad first impression

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Sept. 20, 2019.

    If you've made a bad first impression, good luck redeeming yourself—new research shows that it's tough to change people's minds, Laura Vanderkam writes for Fast Company.

    4 case studies to help you equip first-time managers to lead

    University of Chicago psychological scientists Nadav Klein and Ed O'Brien conducted a series of experiments to determine how quickly people will change their impressions.

    In one online study, 201 participants followed the actions of an office worker known as "Barbara." While Barbara's behavior was neutral at first, she would occasionally commit both positive and negative actions. Sometimes she held doors for people and complimented them, while at other times she would cut in line and gossip. Study participants answered how long Barbara's behavior would have to continue for their perceptions of her to change.

    Researchers found that it was harder for Barbara to achieve a positive image among participants than a negative one. She had to exhibit good behavior for more consecutive weeks to be regarded positively than the number of weeks she needed to behave poorly to be perceived negatively.

    Another online study involving 200 female participants found that people were quicker to judge Barbara's bad behavior and took a longer time to believe that she had improved. Researchers identified similar patterns for scenarios in which characters displayed either good or bad actions.

    The authors wrote, "People apparently need to commit just a few bad actions to appear substantially changed for the worse, but need to commit many good actions to appear substantially changed for the better." They pointed to an "asymmetrical moral tipping point," in which "it is apparently easier to become a sinner than a saint, despite exhibiting equivalent evidence for change."

    People have difficulty changing their minds once they've formed a negative opinion about someone and will hold steadfast to their original view, Vanderkam says. According to former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Jack Schafer, people tend to make excuses that affirm their initial perception. Or they will avoid the person they dismissed so as not to witness any behavior that is antithetical to their views.

    But if you messed up the first impression, don't give up hope.

    "It is difficult to change a bad first impression, but not impossible," Schafer said. He recommended "act[ing] in a consistent way to all people that contradicts the bad first impressions, whatever they may have been."

    And don't go overboard trying to reverse people's opinions, explained Heather Huhman, founder and president of Come Recommended. People will come around on their own time.

    "Let relationships evolve naturally, and don't do things just to make people like you, like buying gifts and saying yes to everything," Huhman  said. "Be genuine, be yourself, and be patient as the relationship grows" (Vanderkam, Fast Company, 8/9).

    Help your new hire make a good impression: The manager's guide to onboarding

    The manager's guide to onboarding

    Retaining new hires is one of the longstanding challenges in health care. Despite manager and HR efforts, newly hired employees continue to turn over at a rate far above that of more tenured staff members. In fact, new hire turnover is a disproportionate driver of an institution's overall turnover rate. Nationally, employees with less than one year of tenure make up nearly 25 percent of all health care turnover.

    But there's good news: better employee onboarding can dramatically reduce these rates. And we have two toolkits to help you improve the onboarding process, including editable templates, checklists, and guides to equip both HR and managers to efficiently and effectively onboard new employees.


    More from today's Daily Briefing
    1. Current ArticleWhy it's so tough to change a bad first impression

    Have a Question?


    Ask our experts a question on any topic in health care by visiting our member portal, AskAdvisory.