The surprise, for me, was that research shows you are most likely to look trustworthy to others and be liked if you first exhibit warmth and then competence, not the reverse. Our Danish family emphasized diligent work; thus competence was most apparent upfront. Yet we are hardwired to respond first to visible warmth from others and can feel coolness in them when they are simply demonstrating competence, even when intending to be helpful.
We most admire those who exude the right balance of strength and warmth, even though the notion runs counter to Machiavelli’s famous view that “It is better to be feared than loved if you cannot be both.” Like to learn how? If you’re a woman or a person of color, this capacity is especially vital, according to Compelling People co-authors John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut. Attempting to first show competence can actually cut you off from others, they found.
Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy came to the same conclusion and advocate visibly demonstrating warmth first.
How Do Leaders Rate on the Warmth/Strength Scale?
Enter a well-known person’s name in the search box. Then you can rate that public figure’s combination of strength and warmth and also see their overall rating.
- Strength: Skill and will
- Warmth: Shared concerns or interests
Emotions are contagious, especially when we are face-to-face with others rather than virtually. First demonstrate warmth and then competence because “we are highly sensitive to warmth and its absence,” according to Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske, authors of The Human Brand. You are judged for your trustworthiness within an eye blink of someone’s seeing your face. About two eye blinks later, others decide on your level of competence, according to Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov.
When first meeting or re-meeting people, consider in advance what you most like and admire about each person. Make that thought top-of-mind when you first see them. Also, if your team is meeting with others, or co-presenting, meet in advance to share out loud those traits you admire in those whom you will be seeing. That way you increase the chances of warming them up to you, to your team and to each other.
Offer a warm cup of some beverage to those who come to see you. Consider giving each person a hot cup of coffee as they enter the meeting.
Tip: Meeting around a round or, even better, an oval table where everyone can easily see each other boosts feelings of mutual warmth.
The opposite happens when meeting around a square table or, worst of all, a long rectangular table. Compound the warmth-sapping effect by meeting in a noisy setting or even where there is ambient noise from an air conditioner or other source.
Those you sit closest to at a meeting or in a work space are often the ones with whom you feel most comfortable. Consequently:
- Be aware of this bias and make a point of engaging others who are farther away. If you are a manager, have people change where they sit periodically. Zappos and Downtown Project founder Tony Hsieh actually assigns employees parking spaces in garages that are a block or so away from their offices to spur more opportunities for collisions – serendipitous interactions with people you might not otherwise meet or see as often. That spurs more camaraderie, collaboration and community feelings, he discovered. Also if, as Kio Stark suggests in Atlantic magazine, cities can be interaction machines, why can’t your workplace or conference?
- Sit next to someone you have not yet met or where you have felt some friction. Sidling – sitting or standing side-by-side with someone – boosts the chances of your getting in sync and thus boosting trust.
- Walking together compounds that feeling of mutuality. Walking to the meeting together or taking a daily constitutional together can often strengthen your relationship and allow you to accomplish more together, in your personal or work life, more than texting or even sitting in the same room together.
- Meet face to face when you want others to be inspired about your idea. People are three to four times more likely to spread your idea after talking with you in person that after hearing about it online, according to Contagious author Jonah Berger in an interview with Bryan Kramer.
- Ed Keller and Brad Fay, co-authors of The Face-to-Face book, heartily agree.
Brash Friendliness Pushes Us Back, Yet Warm Geniality Pulls Us In
A warm smile tends to beget a smile in return. Yet an effusive, over-the-top laugh and wide grin, for example, may cause an introvert or someone who has just gone through a trying time to back into their shell. So bring out the friendly, expressive part of you that’s close to the energy level of the person you are with. Then you are more likely to close the gap of connection rather than widen it.
Make Your Expression a Comforting Gift: Avoid The Screen Face
As we increasingly look down and focus on what’s on our phone, our faces tend to look serious or even dour or dismissive. Unfortunately, we often maintain that screen face expression when we look up to engage with others. Since behaviors create moods and moods are contagious, we are setting up an unfriendly frame for the rest of the interaction.
Companies that foster feelings of mutuality, or companionate love, reduce employees’ withdrawal from work, according to Wharton management professor Sigal Barsade and George Mason assistant professor Mandy O’Neill, who found that this feeling also led to higher levels of employee engagement with their work via greater teamwork and employee satisfaction.
It happens when colleagues who are together day in and day out ask and care about each others’ work and even non-work issues. They are careful of each others’ feelings. They show compassion when things don’t go well. And they also show affection and caring — which can be bringing somebody a cup of coffee when you go get your own or just listening when a co-worker needs to talk, Mason, Barsade and O’Neill discovered.