AKRON (March 23, 2015) — It may be that I hang with a crowd of nerds, but I've been hearing a lot about mirror neurons lately. I heard about them in three sessions at a recent conference I attended, at dinner with friends and while talking to a colleague a few weeks ago.
And I like to stay on top of trends. So I started doing some research to learn more. What I found changed how I interact with people and how I feel about first impressions.
A mirror neuron fires when a person acts or observes another person. The neuron mirrors the behavior and the observer instinctively understands what the other person is experiencing and reciprocates the feeling or emotion.
And this all happens within seconds of seeing another person, before words are exchanged, before decisions are made and without either party even aware that it's happening, because it's all based upon instinct.
It's like when you see someone stub his or her toe and you flinch.
Here's where my research made me sit up and take notice. I've said before in several blogs that when I'm not actively focusing on smiling or interacting with people, my face is blank, and I don't always look nice or friendly. But I used to bank on the fact that after someone interacts with me, that person will know that I'm not mean. Now I realize I don't get the chance to give that first impression.
By the time someone says hello, the mirror neurons already have fired. And they are either mirroring my happiness or what they perceive as a bad mood.
And get this: Even if I'm indifferent or not showing any emotion, it's perceived as negative.
So I have some work to do. I've started saying hello to strangers more, smiling in my car as I'm driving for no reason. I've started getting feedback from colleagues and friends about how I am perceived when I'm deep in thought. That way I can help be aware of the way I'm perceived when I'm not thinking about it.
Meeting new business contacts and networking can be stressful, but understanding the first impression happens before I introduce myself has helped.
Saying hello and smiling at strangers can actually make a difference because they have no choice but to mirror the mood. It's their mirror neurons. Now you can actually make the world a better place by smiling more.