Asshole! Or how to make a bad first impression.

Apologies to Mel Brooks

I’ve had some feedback from work colleagues how are now friends that when they first met me, they thought I was an asshole. Getting that type of feedback from one person is difficult enough, hearing it from multiples is a concern. It’s especially disconcerting as a leader, and as a marketer. My position requires me to meet high-level people pretty frequently, and if I’m leaving a bad first impression, that’s a tough thing to overcome.

That leads to a couple possibilities. One, I’m an asshole. Let’s see if we can get that one out of the way. The same people who told me that their first impression of me was that I was an asshole are now pretty good friends. I’m also told that I’m generally a likable guy once you get to know me. Also, according to Randall Colvin, a social psychologist at Northwestern, first impressions are only correct about 30% of time. So there’s less than a one in three chance that I’m really an asshole.

Possibility two is that I’m somehow leaving a bad first impression that doesn’t reflect who I really am as a person. I’m going to go with this one, because even if I am an asshole, I need to make sure I don’t come across that way as a first impression. So let’s figure out why I’m leaving that first impression.


The first factor is that I’m an introvert. I don’t get energy from social interaction. I’ve had to teach myself not to appear awkward in social situations. Which apparently, for me, has led me too far the other direction. According to Psychology Today, the person who comes across as witty and high energy, and shares personal anecdotes to try to relate may leave you more fatigued than interested. Why? Because most people judge others based on their perception of average, and if you’re more high-energy than average, you’re not going to make a good impression.

Another is that I have a communication style that is focused on getting things done, rather than getting to know people. According to this communication styles inventory (which is free to take, if you’re interested), I’m a driver. There are positives associated with that, but let’s focus on why I may come across as an asshole. From my results:

Needs: may lack patience, may not always recognize importance of other’s feelings/ appear harsh, their need for success may limit your willingness to cooperate
Misunderstood as: not caring about people, control freaks

So I’m tiring, way outside the average, impatient, harsh, and uncaring. Yeah, that sounds like a recipe for sounding like an asshole. But what do I do about it?

Again from  Psychology Today, a few recommendations. Some of these sound counterintuitive. And I’m guilty of violating the first five.

  1. Be average. As mentioned previously, being too different from the average may be a turn-off. If you are considerably different from average in some why, tone it down.
  2. Don’t tell stories about yourself. Trying to connect my life with yours may reveal disconnects. Listen rather than talk. This is related to the next one…
  3. Shut up. You need to leave room for others to contribute to the conversation.
  4. Assume disagreement. In the current climate, assume the other person holds opposing views from you in everything until proven otherwise. This is where the old adage about not talking about sex, politics or religion comes in handy.
  5. Trust nobody. There’s this thing called social desirability bias that causes people to ascribe positive attributes to people who don’t deserve them. Don’t fall for it. If you reveal too much about yourself, you may seem gullible or immature.
  6. Keep your nose out of their business. You may think you’re showing interest. They think you’re being insensitive to situations you don’t know anything about, or simply just nosy.



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