Article: Busting the 60 second fallacy while judging people

Talent Acquisition

Busting the 60 second fallacy while judging people

We are quick to judge, stereotype and react to people at first instance. While this may have had its use in our foraging and hunting days, does it make sense now?

Don't fall trap to the 60 second fallacy - enjoy reading of nice doctors, sweet autoric ksaw drivers and learn how to build an enduring personal brand


Yes, that is all it takes to judge, condemn, like or reject! I recently tested this hypothesis with a group of young management graduates at the Accenture XLRI HR academy.

I breezed in for the meeting in a beige linen jacket, shushed away the audio visual gent who was attempting to assist me with the collar mike, kept tapping my fingers through my introduction and even before the person had finished the last sentence I jumped straight into my discussion.

After some perfunctory introductions, I requested the audience to quickly make note of the adjectives describing me in the last few minutes. I deliberately threw a few leading examples and went on with my session.

Half way through the session, when the audience had warmed up, were smiling, and throwing questions, I requested them to pull up the chit where they made notes and share their first impressions!

Decisive, man in a hurry, arrogant, stubborn, knows what he wants… was a little put off with your brusque behavior, loved your speed and getting straight to the point, was a little uncomfortable, etc.

After a lot of laughs and shaking of heads, we realized how stupid we all were, we had ‘judged’ in less than 60 seconds, stereotyped, decided to like, dislike and activated our mental filters!

The truth is this is what we are doing every second with every new character who enters our life. We are quick to judge, stereotype and react. This may have had its use in our foraging and hunting days, but now does it make sense?

A good debate for another day, but if this 60 second fallacy is true, let us look at how we can leverage this to our advantage and how we can work around this.

Firstly, let us see how we can proactively design our 60 seconds so we get a great start. A good start is half the deed done, right?

Here is an extract from the chapter “Slit Chillies on the Rocks” from the book “You Don’t Need a Godfather” to get us to that great start. I call it the homemade recipe for starting you off on designing the three senses that influence your brand.
What others see?

They see your clothes, your gestures, your walk – all the aspects that form the visual quotient. You have to design what others see, keeping in mind the brand you want to believe and portray. By thinking through the clothes you are seen in, your walk and your posture, you can proactively design the first 60 seconds. You don’t need designer clothes, a fancy hairdresser and a fashion choreographer to design this for you. A little common sense, some decent pairing of clothes, matching for the occasion and an easy confident walk is all you need. And ofcourse lots of practise and good friends who will help you.

What others hear?

You can go all dressed dandy, but you open your mouth and…

The words we use are very powerful signals. Phrases like ‘I think’, ‘maybe’ give the listener an impression that you are not convinced. On the other hand phrases that begin with ‘I am convinced…’, ‘I believe…’ indicate strong conviction and confidence.

And while you are at it, don’t worry about your accent and language – as long as you are confident, know what you are saying and say it in an engaging manner, people will listen.

What others feel?

While a lot of what you heard earlier starts the brand perception, what makes it enduring is what people experience regularly. Even if you don’t get the 60 seconds right, getting this right will help you establish a solid brand.

While a great start is half the deed done, a good middle and a solid ending will more than make up for a bad start. Just be constantly aware and shape the experience.


A key however is to remember to remain authentic throughout. Don’t try and be somebody or something you are not! It will all unravel eventually!

What are you known as – dependable, trustworthy, diligent, undependable, gossipy, lacks detail – it is all about what you do and what you don’t.

Go on, start designing your brand from managing the 60 second fallacy to setting up your 60 year legacy!

While you are at it, remember that you are also indulging in a 60 seconds judgment and falling prey to this fallacy. Who knows you may have missed an important byte, a terrific person and the next big opportunity because you were too quick to judge.

Here are some quick tips to stay out of the 60 second trap:

1. Observe but don’t judge – give it 6 minutes not 60 seconds before you brush them away or embrace them

2. Actively engage – ask those questions, say hello, engage them to actively participate, don’t just wait for the other party to get you over.

Let me leave you with a story that taught me to go beyond appearances and stereotypes.

Many years ago, I broke my arm in a fall. After a night of suffering pain, I met an orthopaedic in a leading hospital. He was very sweet, took extra pains to explain to me what bone was broken, how was he going to fix it, etc… What more, I get home and in the evening, I get a call to check if I was ok and if the cast has set in and was I still in pain!

Guess what I did – the next day I went to another orthopaedic to ensure this chap had done the right thing. My logic – why is this guy so sweet, that too a doctor, maybe there is something wrong!

It turned out that this doc had done a great job and it also turned out that he was a fairly well known senior orthopaedic and the second one I met nearly stood up when I mentioned his name!

That was my 60 second fall – I always remind myself of this. Even when an autorickshaw driver is nice and offers to help, I am wary, but yet not ready to pass judgments!

Good luck and as always leave your comments and discover new people and relationships by breaking the 60 second fallacy!

Elango R, is the Chief Human Resources Officer at MphasiS and author of the book “You Don’t Need a Godfather”. You can read his blog on and follow him on Twitter @agastyasays

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Topics: Talent Acquisition, Life @ Work

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