First Impressions: Blink – and the power of Thin Slicing

Watch what you wear, how you dress or are made up, your expression and posture, and about a dozen other things. People seeing us for the first time will make these small parts to be the whole person, whether they like it or not.

With over 20 years in the speaking field, and tens of thousands of people observed and coached in communications, I have come up with the three second rule of immediate comprehension – showing the power of the unconscious First Brain.

People experience us immediately. Of course that experience will be modified over time – but the change is much less and much slower than we think.

When someone meets us, or sees us for the first time, their senses (mostly the eye) take in so many cues at the unconscious level in the first three seconds that it is difficult to dislodge them. The impression is so vivid, even before we open our mouth and start talking, that it takes 30 seconds to add 50% more to that first impression. Then it takes 3 minutes to add 50% to that, and then 30 minutes to add 50% to that 3 minute impression, and so on – to 3 hours and 3 days.

In his outstanding book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell reinforces the power of the unconscious in our communications, describing some powerful research. He calls it

Thin Slicing

Thin Slicing is where we take a few cues and make it the whole, all at the unconscious level, and all very fast. He uses the time frame of two seconds, and calls the First Brain the adaptive unconscious, but who’s to quibble – his book is selling more than mine.

Here’s an excerpt:

“How long did it take you, when you were in college, to decide how good a teacher your professor was? A class? Two classes? A semester? The psychologist Nalini Ambady once gave students three ten-second videotapes – with the sound turned off – and found they had no difficulty at all coming up with a rating of the teacher’s effectiveness. Then Ambady cut the clips back to five seconds, and the ratings were the same. They were remarkably consistent even when she showed the students just two seconds. Then Ambady compared those snap judgments of teacher effectiveness with evaluations of those same professors made by their students after a full semester of classes, and she found that they were also essentially the same. A person watching a silent two-second video clip of a teacher he or she has never met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who has sat in the teacher’s class for an entire semester. That’s the power of the adaptive unconscious.”

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