When we’re meeting new people, they’re measuring us up in seconds. They are able to see all kind of things about you, from your social status to your intelligence; if you’re a successful person, or a dominant one; if you’re aggressive or adventurous. Of course, this based on first impression, which can be wrong from time to time. Anyway, the question is, when we meet new people, what actually are they evaluating?
Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy has been studying first impressions alongside psychologists Susan Fiske and Peter Glick for more than one and a half decade, and has discovered some interesting things regarding these interactions.
In her latest book, “Presence,” the professor said there are two question people are asking when they first meet you:
- Can I trust this person?
- Can I respect this person?
Psychologists talk about these aspects as warmth and competence, respectively, and ideally you want to be perceived as having both. Surprisingly, Cuddy is considering that competence might be the most important factor, especially in professional matters. A pretty logical aspect, if we’re thinking about a person who’s at a job interview, because, everyone wants to prove they’re smart and capable. Still, warmth, or trustworthiness, is actually the most important factor in how new people evaluate you.
“From an evolutionary perspective, it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust,” the psychologist said.
It makes all the sense, if you’re thinking that for our ancestors was more important to figure out if their newest friend was going to kill them than if he was competent enough to make a good fire.
Anyway, while competence is so much valued, Cuddy says that it is evaluated only after trust is confirmed. She also says that MBA interns are sometimes to concerned about coming across as smart and competent that it can lead them to skip social events, not ask for help, and generally come off as unapproachable.
“If someone you’re trying to influence doesn’t trust you, you’re not going to get very far; in fact, you might even elicit suspicion because you come across as manipulative. A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration, but only after you’ve established trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat, ” professor Amy Cuddy added.