Impression formation and maintenance--a post I wrote for a discussion list.
The following is an explaination of the communication process that I believe occurs *both* on this list and in our other interpersonal relationships. If you are going to participate here, you need to read this carefully, understand how it works and why it's important, and make it happen. I can't keep this place a cool place... *YOU* have to. My favorite quote these days is: "For millions of years mankind lived just like the animals... then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination... we learned to talk". We are all animals... but we don't have to be beasties... and that's what it all boils down to.
There are several aspects to the "handshake" conversation that I find quite interesting from the perspective of how we form impressions of others and how close we are to actually understanding who that person is or being able to accurately predict his or her future behavior.
We base our decisions about a person we've just met on multiple aspects of their verbal and nonverbal behavior--by interpreting *our* perceptions of the stimuli (signals) we see. This can include what they've chosen to wear, how they do their hair, how they are built physically, what gender they are, what color they are, what nonverbal signals we receive from them, and our processing and interpretation of their signals based on our existing beliefs about how things work, our mood, what we think they can do for us, etc. And I might note that we're probably hardwired to some extent to interpret things in terms of a good<-->bad continuum with good meaning "like me... safe" and bad meaning "different from me... dangerous"... more on this later.
There are several aspects to perceiving signals (stimuli) and interpreting or giving meaning to those signals that I think are relevant here:
I believe some people have said that they believe that a small subset of mostly nonverbal signals (the initial greeting with involves a handshake) is enough for them to draw initial conclusions about aspects of someone's personality that they feel pretty confident about (which IMO would tend to cause us to selectively gravitate toward people who share similar views about what's the "correct" way to do things).
Other people have said that this isn't valid because:
I think that we all form initial impressions based on a person's behavior and the context in which the behavior takes place. and I think that's ok. It's when we place too much weight on unreliable indicators, form impressions that aren't accurate, and behave inflexibly to maintain those initial impressions that we get into trouble (rather then communicating and get feedback to increase the accuracy of one's understanding of that person).
One's interpretation of signals often includes a good<---->bad evaluative dimension based on how discrepant our interpretation of the person is as compared to how we think people *should* be. The more we can view things in terms of a same<--->different continuum instead of the typical good<--->bad one, the more luck we'll have expressing differences without evoking an emotional reaction (because the person is less likely to feels jerked around emotionally from being judged). However whether someone feels jerked around or not is also partially a function of the person's propensity to *feel* judged because of their own biases in interpreting signals.
This is the basis of our list norms...
That's why we attempt to communicate here in terms on the same<---->different continuum rather than allowing that good<--->bad evaluative component to slip in, so that we reduce the likelihood of unintentionally hurting others. and if we feel jerked around from something we read here... to step back and ask ourself how come we are feeling jerked around by *OUR interpretation* of the signals (the post). and then responding *not* by judging, or putting down or labeling, but by disagreeing and explaining how come we feel that way.
This list has been active a few years now. During early times it evolved into a community because we talked about what was important, came to a shared understanding about how things should work to make this a cool place to be. For a six month period at the end of last year, there wasn't anything that even resembled flames happening... there were lots of people working to diffuse problems and choosing *not* to react to escalate conflict. It was most cool. :) Anyhow... I suspect that due to the mass influx of people onto the net and our recent announcement of the list's existance, we've added a *bunch* of new members over the last few months, some of whom are very new to this on-line communication thing. Anytime you have a large influx of new people into an established group with existing norms for behavior, you're gonna have conflict. Along with that (as Kevin pointed out) there are probably innate things going on in terms of the courtship/social role/dominance thing as the group's composition changes over time. Tho most of you don't remember... the net used to be restricted to predominantly college people and military people... When AOL first gave their subscribers access to the net, they literally flooded in, unaware that there were existing cultures here with already established norms. It was like a bunch of rude tourists laughing at the funny way people dressed here. (Before AOL, one had to master an archaic mainframe command line interface to get online... After AOL, all one had to do was to be able to point and click to participate.) Anyhow, I suspect that's part of what's going on here lately. I'll take the same tact now that I did back when AOL came online... that of encouraging people to be tolerant and to help newbies understand *why* we encourage people to put some effort into understanding why they behave the way they do and encourage them to put some effort into the communication process. *That's* what makes this place a cool place to be. A place where one can share information and explore possibilities without having to worry too much about being trashed for their beliefs.