What You SEE Is Not Always What You GET

I’ve defected from American Idol this year — don’t even get me started about last year’s winners. But AI’s loss is The Voice’s gain. And I find the first segments of the The Voice, the Blind Auditions, particularly compelling.

In this round, judges’ chairs swivel backwards, so they can hear but not see the singers on the stage. The premise: judges can only access contestants’ voices, eliminating visual appearance as a factor in the impression formed.

Sexy idea — not to be judged by our physical baggage, e.g. age, weight, attractiveness, skin color. It made me wonder … would we all be better listeners if we closed our eyes (or turned our backs) to filter out visual stimuli?

In real life, though, we know that physical and non-verbal cues hugely impact our understanding of the message and have significant influence on the gut level impressions we form. How do we feel when we see someone:

  • Unwilling to make eye contact?
  • With slumped shoulders or a grimace on their face?
  • Fidgeting excessively?

Supposedly, we humans crave patterns that make sense. We assume that The Voice judges would form negative first impressions by seeing:

  • A jazzy, sultry ballad crooned by a geeky looking nerd
  • Steven Tyler-type rocker growls emanating from a tiny, demure-looking adolescent

It’s likely that the judges’ “blindness” does help neutralize some potential bias. Don’t we all relish similar opportunities to be partially stealth, e.g. when we do a business call from home in or bathrobe, or introduce ourselves through email?

But interestingly, on this show, the audience can hear and see the contestants, and enthusiastically cheers them on regardless of the dissonance (or maybe because of it?). I’m thinking most of us actually enjoy the rush of having our predictable initial impressions blown away! Example:

Last night I attended a lecture given by a world renown scientific researcher/author. After an incredibly impressive introduction, the speaker stepped to the podium. First thing I saw was a full Grizzly Adams beard and down-his-back pony tail. Not what I expected!

It made me sit up straighter in my chair. I felt a similar buzz around me. He proceeded to mesmerize the audience with humor, insight and amazing intelligence. I would say his distinctive look grabs people’s attention and imagination in positive ways.

That old axiom: “you only get one chance to make a first impression” is something I’ve been known to say often to learners in my Effective Presentation classes. Well, I’m going to rethink that!

Be aware of and don’t get tripped up by biases and perceptions. Suspend judgment and allow yourself to be surprised by others. And mostly, own who you are and be genuine to it.

Rest assured, though, I’m not planning to do any future teleconferences in my bathrobe.