What do we look for when we meet someone for the first time? Apparently, research tells us that we make fairly instant judgements about new people. For example, research around job interviews suggests that decisions are often formed in the first few minutes, sometimes even before we have had the chance to sit down.
Apparently, we don’t make decisions on each individual’s unique style or personality. Instead, research by Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy suggests that we quickly check out two important characteristics when we first suss someone out. The main two questions we appear to be asking are, “How much can I respect this person?” and “How much can I trust them?” Psychologists call these aspects ‘competence’ and ‘warmth’. When we gauge a person’s competence we are judging how intelligent, powerful, skilful or strong they are. The warmth aspect is self-explanatory – it’s about how much we feel safe and positive in their presence.
In a business setting many people try to emphasise their competence. So, naturally, they want to appear bright, skilful and able to do the job. However, the warmth dimension can be a more powerful influence in forming first impressions. From an evolutionary perspective it would be wiser to assess whether a stranger was friendly before we found out how good they were with a knife.
We can influence how warm we are perceived by initially not going in to a new situation and begin by talking about ourselves and what we can do. Instead, we should take time to hold back and genuinely listen to people we meet. Finding an area of common ground can also be a powerful ice-breaker. Our personal warmth can often be a more important factor than our competence in the impressions we create with others.
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