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Tom Taormina

Quality Insider

Why are Chipmunks Cute and Mice Repulsive?

Perception, mostly perception

Published: Tuesday, September 13, 2022 - 12:03

Chipmunks live in wooded areas, scurrying around outside and feeding on nature. Mice burrow into walls and attics, looking for nesting material and food. They’re considered pests because they leave their nasty droppings where we live. So for many of us, chipmunks are cute but mice are repulsive. On the other hand, there’s probably an equal number of people who keep mice (and chipmunks) as pets. It’s all a matter of perception and personal choice.

In the business world, however, perception is 90 percent of reality—not a matter of personal choice.

You get only one chance to make a first impression. I certainly have my own proclivities that cause me to categorize people based on a first impression, whether it’s based on looks, their voices, or the words they use. These filters come from a lifetime of meeting individuals and evaluating whether my first impressions were validated over time. I’m sensitive to my own prejudices and try to avoid using first impressions as a filter for whether to continue an exchange with someone.

We are very much in control of how we’re perceived, especially on first encounters. If you show up wearing cargo pants to pitch a product to a traditional, conservative-dress company, your chances of success are low. The same is true with hair styles, tatoos, and body adornments. This doesn’t mean your personal lifestyle must be controlled by conventions. But you do have to think about and dress accordingly for your particular business audience. This has been true for generations.

A well-groomed man or woman, appropriately dressed, has an immediate advantage meeting new businesspeople. I have a friend who is the consummate networker in our business community. He’s always dressed well, even in his golf ensemble. Men and women stand in line to talk with him, and speaking is the second tenet of great perceptions.

When you speak, your dialect and words identify you to the listener. I lived in Texas most of my adult life, and there were appropriate drawls and phrases that were commonly accepted, like, “How are y’all?” and, “Brought yourself in.” In Silicon Valley, these terms on first impression would likely identify you as a Southern hick and lay a foundation that you’d have to overcome with the quality of your dialogue.

If you have a pronounced non-North American accent that is difficult to understand in the American business community, you must be aware of how you’ll be perceived based on your speech vs. that of your audience. 

Finally, your diction and choice of words will definitely make a lasting first impression. I was teaching a seminar some years ago when one of the participants addressed me as “Yo! Trainer dude.” My first reaction became reality because I really didn’t want to hear his question or reply to it.

One of my colleagues teaches genuine dialogue. The first tenet is being present. You must, for the time of your conversation with someone, be fully engaged in eye contact and let them know they are the most important person at that moment. The second is active listening. When an idea is expressed, you should repeat your perception back with a phrase like, “So what I heard you say was . . .” Third is confirmation—letting them know you understood their points, regardless of whether you agree with them.

If you can master genuine dialogue, your first-impression quotient will go up dramatically.

Why are chipmunks cute and mice repulsive? It’s strictly a matter of perception.


About The Author

Tom Taormina’s picture

Tom Taormina

Tom Taormina is a subject matter expert in the ISO 9000 series of standards, having written 10 books on the beneficial use of the standards. He has worked with more than 700 companies and was one of the first quality control engineers at NASA’s Mission Control Center during the Gemini and Apollo projects. He also is an expert witness in product liability and organizational negligence.


Of Mice and Chipmunks

Dear Mr. Taormina,

I really enjoyed reading your contribution “Why are Chipmunks Cute and Mice Repulsive? - Perception, mostly perception”. The assertion that, in the business world, perception is 90 percent of reality, struck a chord with me. In mid-June, Quality Digest published my article titled “Searching for the Definition of Perceived Quality. - Can we develop a unified definition of this nebulous term?”. In this paper, I cited, among other sources, Geoff Hutt, the past director of corporate quality at AT&T Istel, who had observed in his contribution to The TQM Magazine:

“Quality is like a rainbow—it’s nothing more than a perception. Quality, like a rainbow, looks colourful and tangible from a distance. When you approach it, and try and grasp it, you realise the illusion. Both are merely perceptions, but both are capable of rational explanation—the perception of a rainbow is caused by the refraction of light in water droplets; the perception of quality is caused by the practice of good management.”1

Dana Thomas cited Valentino CEO Michele Norsa who had explained: “In the United States and Japan, “perceived quality is more important than real quality”2.

This may sound like a contentious claim, but I believe that impression formation in people (and in gnawing animals, for that matter), and in quality, have a lot in common. A pioneer in social psychology, Solomon Asch astutely observed: “We look at a person and immediately a certain impression of his character forms itself in us”3. Social perception, the study of how people form impressions of other people, utilizes social cues, such as eye contact or body language, and also more sophisticated cues, like the clothing choice. In a similar fashion, impressions of quality can be formed, based on a combination of product cues. According to Jacoby et al.4, the following cues were relevant to forming the impressions of quality: (a) price; (b) product composition characteristics such as taste, aroma, color, style, and size; (c) packaging; d) brand, manufacturer (i.e., corporate), and store image; (e) advertising; (f) word-of-mouth reports; and (g) past purchase experience.

Just as people can produce wrong impressions, so can some unscrupulous manufacturers produce counterfeit goods – copies of originals of lower quality. They can also leverage superficial attractiveness of their merchandise to give their potential buyers the impression of ‘the real thing’.

We need to practice genuine dialogue, just as you described it, in order to better understand other people and, most certainly, our customers.

Thank you for your article,


P.S. I think mice are cute.


1)      Hutt, G. (1991), “Understanding the perception”, The Total Quality Management Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 161-165.

2)      Thomas, D. (2008), Deluxe: how luxury lost its luster, Penguin Group.

3)      Asch S. E. (1946), “Forming impressions of personality”, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 41, pp. 258–290.

4)      Jacoby, J., Olson, J.C. and Haddock, R.A. (1971), “Price, brand name, and product composition characteristics as determinants of perceived quality”, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 55, No. 6, pp. 570-579.