Judging people
April 15, 2005 2:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm in position where every day I have to judge the character and abilities of people in order to do my job. I have to do it quickly and decisively. Although I have never doubted my ability to do so, in quiet moments, I wonder whether I've been right all along or whether I've just never been proven wrong. Can someone point me to studies of the validity of character judgements? What's the likelihood that I'm right when I judge people?

In those quiet moments, sometimes I wonder whether it's my own prejudices or whether it's some intuition or innate ability that leads me to my conclusions about the characters of people.
posted by timyang to Human Relations (16 answers total)
I heard the author of Blink, a book that deals with intuition, talking about this. I can't remember the details but he was saying there was good reason to trust first impressions.
posted by john-paul at 3:13 AM on April 15, 2005

Gavin de Becker put a great deal of stock in first impressions in his book "The Gift of Fear". (Granted, he was speaking about them as they relate to personal security, but one would think that such instinct would carry over into other areas.) On the other hand, the office pest that annoys me the most is the one who makes idiotic snap decisions or completes thoughts for other people — and is invariably wrong. My guess is that anyone in your position probably has had enough feedback to know if they are generally correct. If so, your instincts are probably good on the whole. If not ... don't work in my office. ;)
posted by RavinDave at 3:34 AM on April 15, 2005

Yeah.... Gladwell talks pretty extensively about this in Blink. That's really what the book is about -- under the right conditions, people can make very, very good snap judgements about others with very limited information. In fact, in some cases, limiting the information you know about a person can even help you make judgements about their character.

It's a fascinating read... worth checking out if you're interested in the decision making process.
posted by ph00dz at 4:12 AM on April 15, 2005

Here's a Gladwell article about this topic.
posted by driveler at 4:33 AM on April 15, 2005

You may be interested (and surprised!) if you take the Implicit Association Test - I know I was. Said test is also mentioned in Gladwell's Blink.
posted by danhon at 5:00 AM on April 15, 2005

Thanks for the link driveler!! That was some really fascinating reading!
posted by zombiebunny at 5:04 AM on April 15, 2005

What's the likelihood that I'm right when I judge people?

I'm not sure that can be answered by anyone other than probably close friends +/- colleagues. But you do have a track record from which to draw solace - it seems inconceivable that you will have been just plain lucky on so many occasions.

We all make these character assessments in normal life - based on our prejudices, upbringing, education, tastes and no doubt a bunch of other silent criteria. Have you had reason in the past to question your first/second impressions of people outside of work? Have people ever questioned your judgment in this regard? But even then, we can't all be right 100% of the time.

I think that you are right to examine your decisions. But really, you should find confidence in the fact that you've been employing sound judgment to date.
posted by peacay at 5:33 AM on April 15, 2005

Can you somehow relate the results of your judgements to indicate success? For example, if you are in charge of hiring people, see how the people that you hired are performing their job. That might give you some hard proof that you are doing a good job.
posted by sexymofo at 5:42 AM on April 15, 2005

The implicit association test is very good for proving to yourself that you must be extra vigilant when judging persons who are different from you. In addition, there have been other studies that showed that people automatically gave lower ratings to a resume with a woman's name on, compared to the exact same resume with a man's name. And consider that until orchestras started hiring based on blind auditions, there were much fewer women and non-whites hired.

I'm not sure if you're making these judgements in a hiring capacity or some other, but the same principles apply. We all have innate biases, and must overcompensate for them when we try to judge impartially. I'd especially urge you to try to be conscious of your biases when judging women and people of different backgrounds (ethnicity, class, whatever).
posted by acridrabbit at 6:45 AM on April 15, 2005

fwiw, i believe there are also studies that say we tend to associate success with our own ability, rather than blind luck. so you may be convinced you're doing a good job when in fact your decisions are completely random.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:23 AM on April 15, 2005

I saw on ABC News a couple years ago where a study had shown that approx. 70-something % of the time, peoples' first impressions were correct. In effect, you can judge a book by its cover. Trust your instinct.
posted by wsg at 8:40 AM on April 15, 2005

Cause and effect are tricky. Many judgements are self-fulfilling. If you end a relationship with a friend, for example, you automatically reduce or eliminate your ability to determine if you were wrong, along with any chance of redemption. It's analogous to war, where the survivor gets to write history.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:16 AM on April 15, 2005

What criteria do you judge? Ao you think they're based on behavior or character? What is it you have invested in your decisions? Hiring or firing someone? Giving them a security clearance? Credit? Caring for children?
Has nothing to do with your intuition imho; has much to do with the consequences of making the wrong choice, whatever that may imply. What's the worst thing that could happen from your making an incorrect decision?
posted by nj_subgenius at 1:16 PM on April 15, 2005

Ao=Do. Sorry...
posted by nj_subgenius at 1:16 PM on April 15, 2005

It may be possible to make accurate judgements about people when you meet them face-to-face (by watching body language in addition to listening to what they have to say), but in my experience it's impossible to so online, at least about me.

This site is a case-in-point. I've been accused of all sorts of things by fellow MeFites who have claimed to be able to read my mind ("I know why you posted that!"). From the point-of-view inside my head (comfirmed by people who know me well), these judgements were 99% wrong.
posted by grumblebee at 4:32 PM on April 15, 2005

What's the worst thing that could happen from your making an incorrect decision?
A couple of dozen virgins thrown into the volcano to pacify a very angry Vulcan god. But He stopped erupting, so it was obviously the right decision.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:24 PM on April 15, 2005

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