What Makes a Good Impression?

Think of how many different kinds of impressions we try to leave on people. We’d like for them to think we’re:

  • Attractive
  • Smart
  • Fit
  • Rich
  • Cool
  • Stylish
  • Popular
  • Successful
  • Experienced
  • Creative
  • Driven

These are all distractions. The only 2 impressions that matter, especially at the beginning, are:

  • Kindness
  • Interest in Me

When you feel these two things, you instantly want to be friends with a person, but if these are missing, none of the others matter.

People care about themselves more than they care about you, so when you talk about their lives you are automatically talking about their favorite subject. All that interest you craved from them appears like a rabbit out of a hat.

Remember that next time you’re desperate to make a good impression.

One Good Argument for Community

(“Community” is a buzz word, especially around Christian circles. For the sake of this post, I define it as consistent, intentional interaction with other like-minded people.)

Everyone wants community in the sense of a group of friends that bring fun and joy into your life. The problem is, as we age we settle in to our preferences, which include the kind of people we want to be around. If the friction is too high, we usually jump ship on the relationship, and sometimes that’s not a bad thing. But it can get to the point where we don’t spend time with anyone except those who affirm us.

It terrifies me that being a know-it-all is something only other people can see. I’ve never met a know-it-all who sees that they are one. One good argument for being active in a community is that it helps prevent this invisible social disease.

Recently my wife made me aware of a behavior of mine that I didn’t know was happening. That’s putting it lightly. I frowned as she told me about what I was doing because I felt misunderstood, never intended to leave that impression, and couldn’t have possibly been doing what she claimed I was.

Then I realized, this isn’t the first time she’s told me about this. Not only that, other people at different times of my life have told me of this same tendency in me. It’s completely invisible to me.

In this moment I have a choice: trust myself, or trust the opinions of those around me. I decided to trust her and have since come to see that she was right. I would have never come to this realization, never even known the behavior was there, without her telling me.

That’s one good argument for community. Of course the topic is riddled with complexities. Good community has to be sincere. There has to be trust. You can’t rush it. It has to be organic. You can’t over-organize it. You can’t just go to the store and buy it. You can’t force it. Not just anyone can confront you. It’s a great ideal, but it’s sometimes hard to find.

But you can show up, play the long game, take an interest in others, and accept that friction is not only a necessary evil of community, it’s one of the goods. You need others to contradict you, to tell you something about yourself you disagree with, to misunderstand you and sit with you and work it out together.

We don’t know ourselves as well as we assume. We need community.

Compassion and Judgment

I used to think the easy thing was to love people and hard thing was to confront them with the truth. Now I feel it’s just the opposite.

It’s easy to place a judgment on someone like a drive-by shooter and roll up your window and speed away. There’s an abundance of this in our day, each of us equipped with our own platform and social profile from which to speak.

It’s a lot harder to spend the hours getting to know someone, filling your heart with the empathy it takes to see their perspective, and truly understanding the complexities of their personality and actions. This is quieter, less heroic, more demanding, scarce.

Of course, confronting with the truth isn’t always easy either. Hard conversations will always be hard. It’s just that sometimes we lie to ourselves—consider ourselves valiant because we’ve expressed our opinion, yet we’re cowards when it comes to laying our lives down. 

A final thought on judgment. Stephen Covey said in passing in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

“My experience has been that there are times to teach and times not to teach. When relationships are strained and the air charged with emotion, an attempt to teach is often perceived as a form of judgment and rejection.”

This is why we are sometimes violently surprised to learn that people have felt judged by us when we were simply trying to help them. The problem is that we didn’t have closeness with them, which is the precondition for sharing truly effective counsel.

He also says in the book that unless you are influenced by a person’s uniqueness, they will not be influenced by your advice.

(I’ve got a review of this book in my head for some future post.)

Controlling Others

Every day I am tempted to try to control other people. There I am, minding my own business, and suddenly someone treats me like I don’t want to be treated and all I can think about is how to change them. Why can’t they just see what I see? Their behavior is so obvious and it’s bad—it’s so obviously bad! If they would just do x, y, and z, the problem would be solved.

I lay out perfect plans every day, for other people.

And every day I’m tempted to think about these people and how irritating they are and how much better off they would be if they would listen to my plan and enact my plan and treat me better.

That desire for control clings to me and pulls inward like a dried up bungee cord. The part I usually forget is that I’ll never have that control. If I did, I wouldn’t know what to do with it. I haven’t even learned how to control myself.

Don’t describe yourself like this.

At a group gathering where people took turns standing and introducing themselves, a man stood up and said something about himself I’ll never forget. “I’m a renaissance man. I play drums, I write, I build things, I…”

I can’t remember the rest because I was bored and stunned that he would describe himself that way.

Source: Urban Dictionary (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=renaissance%20man)

We all have those friends who make amazing things and rarely share them with the world. When we discover their talents long after we’ve met them, we’re usually amazed and say something like, “I had no idea you were a painter! Why don’t you talk about yourself more often?”

The truth is, we’re happier that they don’t. There’s something about us that loves to discover, loves for things to be hidden for us to find on our own. If everything is shoved in our face all at once, we lose interest.

What’s true about people’s talents is also true about their sorrows. When people have gone through difficult things and are noble and quiet about them, our compassion for them abounds. But if they put their woes on display and reiterate over and over how bad they have it—how much they’ve suffered, how hard it is, how no one else probably has it as bad as they do—our compassion evaporates in an instant.

Covered things allure us. Underplaying strengths is attractive. Overplaying pretty much anything is repulsive.

One more observation about the “renaissance man” from the gathering: he wasn’t great at any of the things he mentioned doing. He was a novice. There’s nothing wrong with being a novice, but I have noticed that people who are great are usually humble about their work. They are inspired by people ahead of them, they’ve seen what’s possible, and they know that they still have room to grow.

When I was a teenager and met someone who played guitar, I had a method of finding out immediately if they were good or not without them knowing what I was doing. I would simply ask, “Are you good?” If they responded immediately with a yes, it was almost certain that they weren’t.