I used to come across an older Russian woman in the hallways of my former job. I would often make eye contact and offer up a small smile but she never reciprocated. I remember even saying hi to her one time only to get silence in return. After that I avoided eye contact and never tried to be nice to her again.
Years later, after half a dozen corporate restructurings, I found myself in the same team as her. Great, I thought. We ended up having lunch in the same break room next to our cubicle / lab farm. She turned out to be the friendliest person on my team, someone I could talk about things besides work. She even agreed with me on my thoughts about American women and spinsters, which would have never been shared unless we had strong rapport.
On my last day of work, I had my exit interview right after lunch. It was time to say goodbye to my lunch bunch. I gave the Russian a hug and she said, “Who would have thought that someone who seemed so mean would be such a nice guy!” Somehow two friendly people came across as total jerks to each other.
First impressions are useful because it serves as a shortcut to help us decide who to associate with and how to treat them. The only problem is when that impression is wrong, when someone is not aware of a rough vibe they are putting out. It’s a question of whether you should give people the benefit of the doubt or not when they don’t immediately respond to you in a positive way. How much perceived slight should you take when getting to know someone? I don’t know, but I will speak louder when saying hi.