People size you up in minutes, but just what are they evaluating?Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy has been analyzing first impressions alongside fellow psychologists Susan Fiske and Peter Glick for more than 15 years, and has discovered patterns in these interactions.In her new novel, “Presence,” Cuddy says that people immediately answer two questions when they first meet you:
- Can I trust this person?
- Can I respect this person?
Interestingly, Cuddy says that many people, especially in a professional context, believe that competence is the more important element. After all, they would like to prove that they are smart and talented enough to handle your business.
But in actuality, warmth, or trustworthiness, is the most important element in how people evaluate you.
“From an evolutionary standpoint,” Cuddy says, “it’s more crucial to our survival to know if someone deserves our trust.”
It makes sense when you consider that in cavemen days it was more important to work out if your fellow man was going to kill you and steal all of your possessions than when he was competent enough to build a good fire.
But while proficiency is highly valued, Cuddy says that it is evaluated only after trust is established. And focusing too much on showing your strength can backfire.
She states that MBA interns are often so concerned about coming across as smart and competent that it may lead them to bypass social events, not ask for help, and generally come off as unapproachable.
These overachievers are in for a rude awakening when they do not get a job offer since nobody must know and trust them as individuals.
If someone you’re trying to influence does not trust you, you are not going to get very far; in actuality, you may even elicit suspicion because you come across as manipulative. A warm, trustworthy person who’s also strong elicits admiration, but only once you’ve established trust does your strength turned into a gift rather than a threat.