Books: First Impressions: What You Don't Know About How Others See You
First Impressions: What You Don't Know About How Others See You by Ann Demarais and Valerie White
Sometimes I'll be shopping at, say, a department store, and I'll see a mother telling her kid to smile at the adult they're talking to, and to say hello -- and the kid will oblige in a clumsy, reluctant, kid-like way.
It's moments like that when I'm fairly certain I was raised by wolves. I mean, when I was a kid, that conversation wouldn't have happened. First off, within ten seconds of entering the department store, I would have been just a big pair of eyes peering out from inside one of the clothing racks. (Clothing cave! And it is ALL MINE! Hooray!) But furthermore, my parents never told me word one about how to interact with people. My dad wasn't around much; my mom was profoundly deaf, and dealt with this mostly by not talking to people.
And as far as I can tell, my ability to interact sociably stayed badly broken until maybe my mid-twenties. Then I slowly, slowly coaxed myself into actually talking to people about what was on my mind. And then after that I slowly, slowly coaxed myself into actually asking people questions and listening to the answers. I'm still crap at this, of course, but it's all relative: I'm better at it now than I was in college, and far better than I was in high school. Now, people just *suspect* there's something cognitively wrong with me, instead of being certain of it, so: progress!
But it's an ongoing process, and I still botch the things most people were patiently taught at the age of five. I suppose I might achieve some basic level of competence just in time to wind up in a nursing home.
All of this is a very roundabout (and bitter) way of approaching First Impressions.
The book is couched in psychology -- everything is backed up with proper experiments and studies -- but it's really just the basic advice that your mom would have given you in the department store. Smile at people. Listen to them. Try to project a good mood. It's stuff that's as simple as walking -- or as *complicated* as walking, if you somehow never learned how to do it.
I like the general tone of the book. Many self-help books feel a bit more like those sad little "how to get girls -- GUARANTEED!" ads on facebook; they're basically a description of how to 'game the system' in some way using simple rules of behavior based on new psychological findings. Oh, right, that's how you can play off of somebody's insecurity to get them to do what you want them to. That's... nice.
This book is more simple and up-front about things. It's not prescribing some form of 'effective' behavior, it's just giving you a rundown of what kind of behavior makes what kind of impression, and how our assessments of people within those first few minutes of meeting them are necessarily distorted. It's not saying you *should* make this impression or that one, it's just saying that you probably want to make a first impression that matches who you really are, or at the very least how you really want to come across. Instead, lots of people (like me) come across in ways that are less the sum total of their personalities and more the sum total of their social blunders.
The book includes useful self-diagnostic tables for figuring out your strengths and weaknesses. For me, the tables point out a few glaring deficiencies: (1) I don't generally project a good mood; (2) I have a lot of trouble coming up with things to talk about; (3) I rarely come across as socially-accessible (as opposed to, say, aloof and awkward); and (4) I almost have a phobia about expressing when I find people attractive.
Worst case, I come across to strangers as grouchy, empty-headed, contemptuous, and asexual, which by my reckoning is zero for four as far as accuracy goes. But the book has sensible advice for taking on these sorts of problems one step at a time.
Perhaps I can use it to make a bit of progress. Every step helps.
For next time, I'll finish watching In the Loop and Gavin and Stacey (no, really), read a slightly more skeezy book about first impressions, and soldier through a bit more of American Psycho. I might start watching State and Main or a bit more of Dollhouse's freaky second season -- we'll see.
 Bipedal motion is actually fiendishly complex. You're basically pitching your whole weight forward, and then catching yourself on your other foot at the last moment. And you're doing this over and over again. If you had to use your conscious mind to "brain your way through it", it would be impossibly difficult.
 Everything else, I seem to do at least okay at, so -- w00t!
 Typically I am happy enough to be out of the house, and the only people I don't want to talk to are people I know and despise.