• Kim Purscell

The Halo Effect: How to Build or Break It

Do you have a colleague who can seemingly do no wrong – at least in the eyes of the boss? Any mistake or misstep of theirs is quickly dismissed and forgotten. Or perhaps you know someone who can’t seem to do anything right, whose actions routinely generate eye-rolls and frustrated sighs. When they do something well, it’s dismissed as “lucky.”

Both scenarios are examples of the halo effect. The halo effect is wonderful – if the first impression someone has of you is positive. If not, you may be judged through a harsher lens. In today’s post, I’m breaking down cognitive bias and then sharing tips on how to set yourself up for success in this arena.

First Impressions When meeting someone new, people tend to quickly form either a positive or negative impression after only a couple of seconds. When the judgment is favorable, the actions of that person are viewed through a lens of acceptance, and the brain conveniently discards any information that doesn’t match that positive impression. When someone has an unfavorable view of a person, they judge them negatively on everything they do. Their actions are perceived as suspect or bad because they have been categorized that way. It’s the halo effect in action – only in reverse.

Confirmation Bias In psychology, this is called confirmation bias. That’s when people hang on to their beliefs despite conflicting evidence. On a subconscious level, the human brain tends to make information fit into the pattern it’s already established: that means it’s easy to rationalize or dismiss when a “good” person does something bad. Is it fair? No. Is it human nature? Yes. The halo effect is real and can affect how you view others – and how others perceive you.

Follow these six tips to surround yourself with a positive halo effect.

Speak Positive Words

Be aware of what you say. If you tend to complain or dwell on problems, those things are likely to work against you. Instead, try showing genuine interest in others and focusing on neutral or positive conversation. Be mindful of what you bring to the table for discussion. At your next meeting, instead of starting with complaints about the nasty traffic and how many crazy drivers are out there, talk about things you are looking forward to thanks to the gorgeous weather and how much you appreciate the opportunity to meet face to face.

Look Your Best

Studies show that people considered to be attractive are also regarded as kind, intelligent, happy and generous (draw your own conclusions about how people who are not considered attractive are perceived). The takeaway: make the most of what you’ve got. Dress well, keep your appearance as tidy and stylish as you can, and present yourself to the world in the best light possible. It may not be fair, but appearance affects how people perceive you and treat you.


Your body language matters. Your stance, positioning and gestures should communicate that you are an open, interested, engaged person. Project confidence by pressing your shoulders back and lifting your chest. The human brain picks up on subtle movements and cues that are all processed together when forming impressions of people.

Keep Your Word

Do what you say you will, when you say you’ll do it. Resist the temptation to tell people what you think they want to hear concerning commitments and deadlines; be realistic about what you can do and how long it will take. Avoid promising more than you can fulfill. Every time you come through, trust builds, and your halo shines brighter.

Act First

Be proactive. Look for ways to help instead of waiting for an assignment. Give your supervisor or client a status update on a project before they feel compelled to check-in. This one habit generates a ton of goodwill and creates an impression of competency and professionalism that will follow you around. Even if you are delivering bad news – “I just wanted to touch bases and let you know the report is going to be late” – the fact that you initiated the conversation (especially a difficult one) goes a long way toward cementing your reputation as a thoughtful, effective, reliable person.

Give It Another Try

Maybe someone formed a bad first impression of you, and it appears to be tainting their perspective. Keep trying, putting into practice the tips outlined above. It’s hard to change initial judgments, but through perseverance and thoughtful actions, it can happen. Next, think of the people in your life; is there anyone you may have judged unfairly? Remember there is good and bad in everyone. Be aware of fixed judgments in your mind and consider the whole picture to balance any false perceptions you hold.

Kim Purscell is a trained and licensed etiquette and protocol instructor, an accomplished speaker, and experienced business executive. Ms. Purscell’s passion is to help people move upward in the workplace by improving their professional image, behavior and communication skills; and empower clients, to present themselves with power, confidence, and credibility anywhere in the world. Ms. Purscell can be reached at Kim@EtiquetteMatters.us

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