Many people are worried about the kind of first impressions they make. In fact this worry can be a major factor of social anxiety and a reason why people skip out of networking events. But, does knowing exactly what people are judging you on help to boost your confidence in these meetings?

Amy Cudd, a Harvard Business School professor, has spent the last 15 years studying first impressions alongside fellow psychologists Susan Fiske and Peter Glick. Through her research, she’s managed to find out the two main things that people are judging you on and the questions they’re asking:

  • Can I trust this person?
  • Can I respect this person?

Two Things People Judge You On When You Meet

In psychological terms, these represent Warmth and Competence respectively and to make a good first impression, you need to give off positive answers to both questions.

The research appears in Cuddy’s new book, “Presence“, a culmination of her and her colleagues 15 years of research.

“From an evolutionary perspective,” says Cuddy, “it is 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 kill you and steal all your possessions than if he was competent enough to build a good fire.

Order matters too, it doesn’t matter how competent you may seem, establishing trust is the essential first step of meeting someone. Placing too much emphasis on displaying your strengths and competency in a first-time meeting can be a waste of time. You need to focus on building trust first and then move onto your competencies.

“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,” Cuddy says. “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.”

When a person is lying there is likely to be discrepancies between what they are saying and what they are doing, she suggests.

“Lying is hard work,” she writes. “We’re telling one story while suppressing another, and if that’s not complicated enough, most of us are experiencing psychological guilt about doing this, which we’re also trying suppress. We just don’t have the brainpower to manage it all without letting something go – without ‘leaking’.”

Cuddy’s book has been written with the hope of increasing people’s confidence in these nerve-wracking social encounters.

If you’re someone who dreads events and meeting someone for the first time, keep the two main factors of a first encounter in mind. Remember, you’re building trust before chasing anything else, especially sales.

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