Milliseconds-of-time is all we have to choke back that glaring faux par. That’s a tribute the power and speed of our brain.
But it’s also a reflection about how quickly we can ‘put our foot-in-our-mouth’; it only takes 600 milliseconds for our brain to formulate a word, and for our mouth to speak it.
We do have time to stop, but more often than not we go ahead regardless. And ‘putting our foot in it’ can have stinging impacts, personally or in business. “First impressions are very sticky,” says Heidi Grant, author of No One Understands You and What To Do About It, a book about psychological factors that shape people’s interactions. Those factors are rooted in bias thought-patterns, including the tendency for first impressions to stick.
We have the advantage with email or social media though, to wait a moment. True, we hardly want to slow down when we have a great train-of-thought as we tap away, but if we think a little before we hit send, it may save us some serious mopping-up later.
So, in that flicker of time when we first have something to say, and the moment it comes out, stop for a second. Bite your lip, hold that email, step away. Read it with fresh eyes when you’ve had a break. Then decide. That’s the big advantage of talking online, you can avoid the faux par.
You can also spend face time with someone to repair a bad start, Grant says. Offering lots of evidence to counter a bad start can really help, as can building familiarity with greetings and waving, and patiently building up the impression you want.