Weekend Poll Results: First Impressions – Trust or Respect?

Thanks to all who participated in my latest weekend poll, in which I asked:

When you meet a new colleague for the first time, what has the greatest impact on your opinion of the individual?

I mentioned that I’d been reading highlights of a social psychologist’s findings on first impressions, and hoped to compare readers’ perspectives with what I’ve read. Let’s turn first to what you said.

Poll Results

80% of respondents identified the individual’s warmth as having the greatest impact

  • the individual’s warmth: 80% of respondents
  • the individual’s competence: 13% of respondents
  • the individual’s intelligence: 7% of respondents


Affirmation of Social Psychologist’s Findings

In other words, readers affirmed the findings of social psychologist Amy Cuddy, an Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

Cuddy became broadly recognised in 2012 for her research and presentations on non-verbal behaviour. Her Ted Talks presentation on how our body language impacts not only others’ perceptions of us, but also our own self perception, became wildly popular.

Now, in 2016, her book Presence is turning the lens on body language and how it impacts others’ first impressions of you. Along with psychologists Susan Fiske and Peter Glick, Cuddy has been studying first impressions for a decade and a half. In her book, she writes about how attention to your body language has potential to enhance your self confidence – and positively impact others’ perceptions of you.

Warmth or Competence: Which is More Important to Others’ Perceptions?

Shelagh Mar 2016Cuddy suggests that people (intentionally or not?) assess two criteria when they meet someone new: Can I respect this person? Can I trust this person? Respect, she says, is inferred from competence, and trust via someone’s warmth.

So, dear readers, it turns out that your responses to my weekend poll validate Cuddy’s findings. While many (particularly in professional environments) consider competence key, Cuddy’s studies showed that competence took second place to warmth, which translates to trustworthiness.

She suggests that, although competence is important, the majority of us tend to focus first on whether we trust someone before we’re prepared to assess whether they’re competent.

Wait a second, you say. What about intelligence? Isn’t that what’s measured, along with competence, throughout our school years?

Apparently, if you’re on the hunt for a job and focus on your intelligence and competence at the expense of warmth, that could backfire. It appears that high performing interns who bypass workplace social activities do so at their own career peril, as those in charge need to first trust the individual before being prepared to hire her or him. What do you think? Can you see any parallels with situations in your office, in which someone who genuinely conveys warmth (trust) has an edge over an equally competent but cooler natured candidate when it comes to career advancement?

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