People Judge You Based on Your Warmth and Your Competence

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My 20-year-old son Sam recently pointed out to me that the wearing of seat belts dramatically increases a person’s chances of dying of cancer.

He got my attention.  Really?  I know that there’s been a study done somewhere by some university showing that virtually everything a person can eat or do puts them at greater risk of developing cancer.  But seat belt wearing?

He went on to say that this practice also puts a person at greater risk of dying of a myriad of other causes too:  heart disease, kidney failure, emphysema, pneumonia, a bad case of the flu, or falling off of a cliff while hiking.  The list of risks you encounter due to seatbelt wearing is endless, he mentioned.

He drew the conversation to a close by making the astute observation that, since wearing seat belts make you live longer, they also increase your chances of death by almost every cause, except of course, dying in a traffic accident.

We fall victim to this kind of reasoning when we make assumptions about what people value in us when they first meet us*.  Is it how we look, or what we wear, or how we comb our hair, or how confident we are, or whether or not we use the right amount of pressure during a handshake?  We all have our pet theories.

Harvard professor Amy Cuddy has been studying first impressions for more than 15 years (!) and in that time has boiled her research down to two factors.

So, here are the two question that people seek to answer about you when you first meet:

  1. Can I trust this person?
  2. Can I respect this person?

In other words, they want to know if you have personal warmth, and they want to know if you’re competent to do the job.

We tend to think that what people really care about is our competence.  But, it turns out that they care more, or at least first, about personal warmth.

Competence is important, but people only care about your competence once they’ve established that you are a trustworthy person.  Makes sense really.  If you are competent and untrustworthy, you may you use your superpowers against them at some point.

So here are some simple ways of building trust:

  1. Let the other person feel and know that they are the most important part of your day.
  2. Stand up to greet them. Small thing?  I don’t, and never have believed so.
  3. Remember, and use their name. Dale Carnegie taught us a long time ago that the sweetest sound to anyone’s ears is the sound of their own name.
  4. Ask them questions about themselves and listen carefully to their answers. Sometimes (often) what a person needs is just to be listened to.  When was the last time someone really listened to you?

So, be competent of course, but remember that people view your competence (or lack of it) as a secondary trait when they consider doing business with you.


Have a great week!




*Quite the segue – did it work?  Not sure…  great story though

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