When trying to get ahead in life, almost nothing is more important than a good first impression. This is something that a lot of people learn at a young age, but it's one of those things that are easier said than done. We all know that first impressions are important, but what goes into making a good one? Smile and eye contact? What you're wearing? Loads of confidence, whether faked or genuine?
These first impressions are critical when working the crowd at a networking event, nailing your dream job interview, or trying to get an investor to throw money your way. Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist Amy Cuddy has been studying first impressions for many years and has learned that there are two key things that people ask themselves (usually subconsciously) when first evaluating a new person:
- Can I trust this person?
- Can I respect this person?
These questions can be boiled down to two traits: Warmth and competence. Having a warm personality lets people know they can trust you. Showing confidence and competence in your skills and responsibilities tells people know they can respect you and rely on you to get things done.
Cuddy, whose book Presence is all about reassessing our personal power and learning techniques that can make us thrive in the high-pressured moments we may currently dread, can be considered one of the foremost experts on impressions. She is most known for her famous 2012 TED Talk on power poses (which is the second most watched TED Talk ever).
In Presence, she writes: “Warmth is the ability to make someone else trust you and your intentions….From an evolutionary perspective, it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust.”
While warmth and competence are both very important, warmth is the most critical, because people need to feel that they trust you first and above anything else. Once trust is established, then they will evaluate your competence.
This is good to keep in mind, especially for younger people who want so desperately to prove that they know things and that they can do things, they might neglect the human component when introducing themselves to others. Trying to win people's respect before winning their trust can often backfire in that they come off as cold, impersonal, and driven by personal motivations, rather than wanting to help a team.