The current issue of Harvard Magazine has a very interesting article by social psychologist Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School called The Psyche on Automatic. In the article, Cuddy probes the topic of snap judgments, the spontaneous decisions we make and that others make about us. Based on her research she has found that there are two critical variables, warmth and competence, and that they account for about 80% of our overall evaluation of people.
As I reflect on the article and my personal experience, I think this research is also profoundly useful and relevant to professional life. Its impact is wide ranging, from capturing work and client partnering, to team collaboration and daily interactions. While I understand the warmth and competence aspect, I think we all should think more about what we value, what we know and how we actually interact. It may not be conscious but there are warmth/competence tradeoffs. In short, Cuddy says that warmth is perceived first, and accounts for more in someone's overall evaluation than competence. On the other hand she notes a conflicting view where an individual's self perception values competence over warmth. In our design and technical architecture and engineering focused world, the bias to competence is understandable. Do you rate competence more than warmth?
Beyond this basic theme she covers many other useful concepts, including the neurological and physical impact of body position in our interactions, awareness of cultural and gender bias, stereotyping and other nonverbal signals. All of these factors contribute to our automatic responses. The last two paragraphs in the article provide good advice; focus on connecting. This quote makes her point clear.
"That said, you don't have to prove that you're the most
dominant, most competent person there. In fact it's rarely
a good idea to strive to show everyone that you're the
smartest guy in the room: that person tends to be less
creative, and less cognitively open to other ideas and
Further she notes that competence oriented presentations and meetings, with their focus on words, content and precise delivery, can feel or sound scripted. Her advice instead? "Come into a room, be trusting, connect with your audience wherever they are, and then move them with you."