I learned a powerful life lesson from a date that did not go well. The poor date was entirely my fault; I make no excuses. I was not in a good state of mind, distracted by thoughts of another woman who had just dumped me. I wasn’t focused on Chris during our date, even though she was much more my type.
I’d known Chris for several years; we worked at the same company. We had joked around with each other and even flirted a bit. I thought she was cute and funny so I asked her out. But I wasn’t good company that night. We watched a terminally boring movie at my house, and neither of us had much fun. I felt bad afterward because I knew I hadn’t responded properly to her cheerful and friendly behavior.
Two months later I was in a much better mood. One afternoon I stopped by Chris’s office and excitedly told her about my new car. I inquired what she was doing that fine Friday evening. “Oh, just the usual,” she replied, which translated as “Nothing at all.”
On the spur of the moment, I asked Chris if she wanted to go to a movie with me that night in my new car. Before she could connect brain to mouth she said yes. Later, though, she told me that between then and the time I picked her up she had been horrified at facing another dreadful date with Karl. As it happened, we had a lot of fun that night and on subsequent dates. And today is our wedding anniversary: thirty-two years.
There was an important lesson in this experience for both of us: Everyone deserves a second chance to make a first impression.
In this case, I was just lucky that Chris agreed to go out with me a second time. Given a few moments to reflect on our previous date, she would have said no and we both would have missed out on a happy life together. True, the saying is that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Our story suggests that you might want to overlook a less-than-favorable initial experience and give that person another shot.
Someone might rub you the wrong way — at work, in a social setting, or in an everyday encounter — for a variety of reasons. You know nothing about how that person feels at that moment, what’s going on in her life, or what might be distracting her. She might be tired or have a headache. Perhaps she has a sick child at home or has been getting grief from her boss. She — or you — could simply be in a lousy mood, as I was that first night with Chris. You just don’t know. So if the two of you don’t click, consider a second opportunity to connect and see how it works out.
This message was reinforced another time someone gave me a second chance. I once attended a meeting with some people who worked in my company’s information technology area, including one fellow I had never met before, an Australian bloke named Ian. I had been experiencing a lot of computer problems at work, and I wasn’t happy about it. I never had gotten along with Phil, who was running the meeting. That day Phil had a particularly bad attitude and wasn’t being very cooperative. We argued about my computer issues for a few minutes. Fed up with Phil’s stonewalling, I walked out of the meeting in disgust.
I didn’t care how Phil felt about me, but I was embarrassed that Ian — a new member of the team with whom I would have to work in the future — had witnessed our clash. I telephoned Ian that afternoon and apologized. Fortunately, the easy-going Aussie wasn’t offended. Shortly thereafter I invited Ian to join me for lunch so we could get better acquainted. We soon became good friends and are still in touch more than twenty years after we both left that company. I’m glad Ian gave me a second chance, because I know I didn’t make a good first impression that day.
If someone irritates you at first, try to think of the most generous interpretation of his behavior. Perhaps he gets nervous when meeting new people or was intimidated by the other people in the room. He also probably wants to make a good impression. He might try too hard to fit in or look good, and as a result he might come across as loud or self-aggrandizing. Give such a person another chance in a different environment. Perhaps he’ll still be a jerk, but see if he repeats the behavior before you write him off. You might make a friend for life.
I’m thankful every day that my warm, friendly, and very funny wife, Chris, decided I wasn’t such a jerk after all.