Trust can be earned again, even after a bad first impression

DURHAM, N.H. — According to researchers from the University of New Hampshire, making a good first impression can form trust early on. Moreover, their study finds trusting a person early on can impact the entire relationship positively, even after someone in the relationship breaks that trust.

“It’s not just an old adage, first impressions really do matter especially when it comes to trust. During an initial interaction, one of the most important and immediate factors people consider about another person is trustworthiness. It can impact their willingness to accept risk and vulnerability and can help develop future perceptions and behaviors like cooperation, whether it be for work, negotiations, or partnerships. Where it gets more complex is after a significant gap in time between interactions,” says Rachel Campagna, an assistant professor of management, in a university release.

Bad first impressions can still lead to trusted friendships

Researchers say that if a person violates trust soon after a positive, initial impression, they are more likely to be forgiven by the other person because they tend to think back to the good first impression. The study also finds that if a person got off on the wrong foot with someone but never displayed that off-putting behavior again, then the person they offended is more likely to trust them even more later on.

“A good example is engaging in a negotiation with a salesperson and there is questionable trust on that first meeting. But when the two people meet again to finish the negotiation, like sign contracts, the customer learns that the salesperson did something to help them that wasn’t expected. That simple act is an opportunity to mend any negative first trust impression and may even strengthen it with actions like future referrals,” Campagna explains.

Previous research has led to some contradictory results. Some studies suggest initial trust only lasts within the first few seconds upon meeting a person. However, other studies suggest trust lasts much longer than that. The team gathered data from three different studies at different times throughout a relationship. One study focused on the initial meeting and its consequences. A second focused on trust after two weeks of the initial meeting and a third focused on trust perceptions overall.

“While we found that a good first trust impression is important it was interesting to see that even if someone has a bad day and gets off on a bad foot, there are opportunities to build and strengthen the trust, which can be important to both parties,” Campagna concludes.

This findings appear in the journal Human Relations.

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