10 snap judgements people make when they first meet you

Posted 29 Aug 2023, by

Brendan Brown

We all make judgements when we meet people. It’s a natural part of being human.

That can lead to problems, of course, especially if we allow our judgements to be driven by prejudice or other negative biases. But it can also save us a lot of time and help us to better navigate through life.

We’re all familiar with the idea that first impressions count, and studies seem to bear that out. One study  by psychologists from Princeton found that it only takes a tenth of a second to develop a first impression about someone. 

That’s where the snap in snap judgement comes from.

But how exactly are people judging us when they first meet us, and what do those judgements mean in practical terms? 

In today’s article, we’re going to go ahead and find out.

1)  Whether they can trust you

One of the very first things that we decide when we look at people is whether or not we can trust them.

Trust comes in different forms and at different levels.

When you meet someone for the first time, you’re probably not going to be asked to trust them with your life.

But you still want to know whether you can trust them with your time or whether you can trust them not to repeat what you talk about to other people.

Trustworthiness is particularly important in a business setting. That’s why this is a judgement that you’ll often see people making during interviews for a job role or when two or more teams and companies are coming together for the first time.

Of course, the only way to actually know whether you can trust someone is to go ahead and trust them and to see whether they actually deserve that trust. But that doesn’t stop us from making those snap judgements.

2)  How intelligent they think you are

You can’t actually tell how intelligent someone is by looking at them, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.

We have all sorts of preconceptions here, such as the idea that people who wear glasses are automatically more intelligent. We also judge people’s intelligence based on everything from how they dress to how they hold themselves.

I very deliberately called this point “how intelligent they think you are” because short of you tattooing your IQ on your forehead, there’s no way for people to actually know how intelligent you are from looking at you.

And let’s not dwell on the fact that IQ measurements aren’t a foolproof test of intelligence. Or that people will likely judge you as unintelligent if you have a huge number tattooed on your head.

3)  Whether they think you’re attractive

This is a pretty obvious point, but we still need to give it a mention.

In today’s world, there’s no place for discrimination towards people because of the way that they look. Unfortunately, it still happens.

For example, when I used to work at a marketing agency, I know for a fact that they hired creatives based on their abilities and their account managers based on how attractive they were.

People make these snap decisions about whether they think we’re attractive or not in all sorts of situations, from when we’re sitting in the dentist’s chair to when we’re applying for a job. There’s not much that we can do about it other than to acknowledge that it happens.

The only people who are really immune to this are those who are asexual, and even then, there’s a good chance that they’ll judge you based upon how they think other people will judge you.

4)  Whether you’re in a relationship

If someone judges you to be attractive, their next judgement is going to be whether you’re in a relationship.

In fact, they’re probably going to judge whether or not you’re in a relationship either way.

I’ve never been a good judge of this, but I’ve been assured by my girlfriend that women can easily tell whether a guy is in a relationship or not. Maybe it’s because a girlfriend will usually help to make sure that their men are looking tidy and presentable.

And of course, the fact that people make snap judgements about whether or not you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean they’ll be any good at it. Unless you’ve got a ring on their finger, it’s not easy.

But of course, people will make judgements regardless of whether they have anything to base them on.

5)  How professional you are

People judge your professionalism based on all sorts of different factors.

It’s true that they make snap judgements about how professional you are when they first meet you, but it’s also true that they’ll revise that judgement as they see you in action.

That means that even if you don’t make the best first impression, you can normally make them revise it – unless you’re at an interview, in which case you’re screwed.

People base their snap judgements on how professional you are on a number of factors, just like everything else. However, your clothes and your personal hygiene play a more important role here than almost anywhere else, except perhaps for whether they think you’re attractive.

Imagine showing up to deliver a presentation at an important meeting in your gym clothes and you’ll get an idea of how impactful your outfit can be.

6)  What background you come from

I should repeat here that the background that you come from shouldn’t have any impact on the way people perceive you. Unfortunately, it still does. We don’t live in a perfect world.

In my case, I grew up in a small town in the British Midlands, and when I moved to London for university, I could see people’s perception of me visibly changing when I opened my mouth to speak and they heard my accent. I actually changed the way I talked so that my accent wouldn’t be as obvious.

These same kinds of judgements happen for all sorts of reasons. For example, people will judge you based upon the city you grew up in, the way you talk, what your ethnic background is and pretty much anything else they can base a snap judgement on.

There’s not a huge amount that you can do about this. My suggestion is to rise above and just to focus on what you do best.

7)  How old you are

People always make judgements about how old you are when they first meet you, usually without even realizing it.

In fact, it’s typically not until it comes up in conversation and someone asks them to guess at how old you are that they consciously think about it.

Nevertheless, they’ll subconsciously use their judgement about your age to form decisions.

This is important in all sorts of areas, from dating (e.g. “she’s a little bit too young for me”) to job interviews (e.g. “he’s too old to survive for long in such a fast-paced industry”).

Some people go out of their way to try to look younger than they are, and that can change the way people perceive them. But they can’t stop people from trying to judge how old they are in the first place.

And there’s only so much that makeup and cosmetic surgery can do.

8)  What kind of music you like

You can tell a lot about a person based upon the kind of music they like.

Of course, there are also a bunch of stereotypes which we still need to overcome. If you show my grandparents a metalhead, they’ll probably worry that they worship Satan. When I see a metalhead, my first thought is generally, “I bet they love cats and play Dungeons & Dragons.”

If you’re going to make judgements about people based on the music they listen to, you first need to make judgements about the kind of music that they like.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon who you ask), you can tell a lot about the kind of music that people like based upon their appearance.

And you can bet your bottom dollar that whether you’re doing it or not, other people are.

9)  Whether you’re creative

Making a judgement about whether someone’s creative or not is one of the more logical things we’ve talked about today.

That’s because in my experience, creative people tend to stand out. They look creative, and they often have a vibe that makes them the most interesting-looking person in the room.

Perhaps it takes a creative person to recognize one, but I find it pretty easy to spot an artist in a line-up of people.

Bear in mind that there are a ton of different types of creativity, and when we talk about people who are creative, that doesn’t just mean artists and musicians.

People can be creative in the business world, and I know plenty of creative parents and even a math teacher with a creative streak.

Creativity is rarely a bad thing. That’s why people make judgements about it.

10) Whether they like you

Last but by no means least, one of the first snap judgements that people will make is whether or not they like you.

This decision is likely to be based upon all of the other snap judgements they’ve made, along with anything else that they might know before they meet you.

For example, if someone is interviewing you, they’ll base their judgement on whether they like you or not upon both their first impressions in the interview and what you’ve written in your resume.

The hope is that people will continue to get to know you over time and that their decision about whether or not they like you will evolve.

However, all of that will stem from the snap judgement that they’ll make when they first meet you.

So in other words, if you want people to like you, then first impressions count!

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