Yes, People Judge You. But This Harvard Psychologist Explains Based On What!


People size you up in seconds, but what exactly are they evaluating?

When you meet someone for the first time, do you put forth a good impression? And what do we mean by 'good' in this context?

Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy has been studying first impressions alongside fellow psychologists Susan Fiske and Peter Glick for more than 15 years, and has discovered patterns in these interactions.

In her new book, Presence, Cuddy says that people quickly answer two questions when they first meet you:

  • Can I trust this person?

  • Can I respect this person?

Those two questions shape our perspective a lot.

Psychologists refer to these dimensions as warmth and competence respectively, and ideally, you want to be perceived as having both.

But in fact, warmth, or trustworthiness, is the most important factor in how people evaluate you.

"From an evolutionary perspective," Cuddy says, "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.

But while competence is highly valued, Cuddy says that it is evaluated only after trust is established.

And focusing too much on displaying your strengths can backfire.

There is more...

She says that MBA interns are often so concerned about coming across as smart and competent that it can lead to them skipping social events, not asking for help, and generally coming off as unapproachable.

While displaying competence is certainly beneficial, particularly in a work setting, Cuddy warns that focusing on winning people's respect, while failing to win their trust, can backfire.

A common problem for young professionals attempting to make a good impression early on in their careers...

These overachievers are in for a rude awakening when they don't get a job offer because nobody got to know and trust them as people.

Cuddy adds:

"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. 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."

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