Whether it is approaching someone at a bar or walking in the door to a job interview, people are judging us nearly constantly. These first interactions and impressions are critical to the success or failure of the meeting. There is an almost endless myriad of factors that go into a first impression like appearance, body language, and other physical characteristics. In the end, they all boil down to one thing: what the other person thinks about you. That is what makes first impressions so nerve-wracking. Often times we are left to ponder what it is that someone thinks about us, and if your brain is anything like mine – there are a million things that could be going on in that person’s head.
Harvard psychologist and author, Amy Cuddy, says that people determine 2 things bout you upon first meeting them:
Can I Trust this Person?
Can I Respect this Person?
In psychological terms, these two aspects boil down to warmth and competence. In a professional setting, respect is a product of feeling like someone is competent. Trust or warmth, however, is what is most important to people. Cuddy says, “From an evolutionary perspective, it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust.” Think about it this way: If you don’t trust someone to not kill you in your sleep, what difference does it make if they are a good provider? Establishing trust is the key to showcasing competency.
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Cuddy found that people who focused too much on showcasing their abilities often actually caused their trustworthiness to be suspicious. When people focus simply on showing off what they can do, instead of getting to know the people around them, they can sabotage that trust in their abilities.
Cuddy points out that overachievers often come off as distant and unapproachable. She says, “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.”
The key to making the most out of the two factors that people judge us on is developing enough trust to earn their respect. Again, you can be the best at something that you do, but if no one trusts you – you won’t have the opportunity to prove it. According to Cuddy, “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.”
Cuddy’s new book, “Presence”, goes into more detail about how people perceive us, and how to always put your best foot forward in situations involving new people. It’s definitely an interesting insight into the science of first encounters.