By Louise Green
Psychologists call it “thin slicing.” Within moments of meeting you, people decide all sorts of things about you, from status to intelligence to capability. It only takes a few seconds for someone to determine whether they like you and want to do business with you.
Amy Cuddy, known for her 2012 TED Talk, is a professor at Harvard Business School researching first impressions and how nonverbal behaviour and snap judgments influence people.
Cuddy suggests that people quickly answer two questions within a few seconds of meeting you:
- Can I trust this person?
- Can I respect this person’s capabilities?
Psychologists refer to these dimensions as warmth and competence respectively, and ideally you want to be perceived as having both.
In our experience, professionals often believe that competence is the most important factor so they can tend to play this up, as they want to prove they are smart and talented enough to get a job at your company. However, focusing too much on displaying your strength up front can backfire on you if you don’t take the time to build rapport. It is warmth, or trustworthiness, that is the most important factor in how people evaluate you.
Cuddy says that from an evolutionary perspective, it was more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust. It makes sense when you consider that in cavemen days it was more important to figure out if your fellow man was going to murder you and steal all your possessions than if he was competent enough to build a good fire! So, while competence is highly valued, it is evaluated only after trust is established. Furthermore, if someone you’re trying to influence doesn’t trust you, you’re not going to get very far!
The good news is there are things you can do that research has correlated strongly, to develop trust and make a strong first impression. Practicing using positive body language, making time for small talk and active listening are all useful behaviors and we also have some tips on how to develop your likeability.
It’s the little things that make the first impression a good one, and the importance of establishing trust first and foremost, cannot be overstated.