“We automatically form an impression of every person with whom we interact,” wrote Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy her book, Passion: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.
Amy Cuddy is on my list of “famous people I’d like to have lunch with”. Have you seen her TED talk?
For over 15 years, she studied the first impressions we leave on people. This is NOT an area in which I excel. My college roommates would have to agree. They called it the “Lauren Friendship Curve”. When we first became roommates, our relationships were amicable. It took time before we moved beyond that. Today,nearly 15 years later, we’re good, close friends. I hope that means it’s not a bell curve!
Today, as an entrepreneur, I can’t afford to do business with the Lauren Friendship Curve getting in the way. I’m long overdue for taking this weakness and transforming it.
In her years of research, Cuddy discovered patterns. When we interact, there are predictable responses to specific situations. When we meet a new person, we look for answers to two questions based on that first impression.
- Can I trust this person?
- Can I respect this person?
Think about the last time you met a new person. What kind of impression did they leave? What kind of an impression do you think you left?
Would you use the words warmth and competence for either you or your new acquaintance? Ideally, the answer would be both. If you only felt like you pulled off one then guess what? You know what area you can work on.
For me, it’s lack of warmth. I grew up in a loving family, but there was a lot of sarcasm. Might be because I have five brothers (I tell you, sarcastically). Of course, I don’t blame my family for my lack of warmth. I blame my nervousness. I come across as hard and unapproachable, but really, I’m nervous about the social situation. Add in my sarcasm and it’s a vicious mix.
I understand that if I need to come across as someone you can trust, I need to work on being warm.
How about respect? That’s tied to competence, which is tied to self-esteem. Cuddy said, “the source of secure high self-esteem is internal.” Do you love and respect yourself?
This one is tricky, however, because it backfires if you’re over competent. If your sole focus is on coming across as smart and proficient, you might come across as arrogant or brash instead.
Cuddy said, “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.”
I’ve made a short list of three things I’m currently working on to improve my warmth. What would you add to the list?
I read a book not long ago with a great title: You Are Boring, But You Are Uniquely Boring. It’s a book about writing memoir. Guess what? Everyone has a story. You have to ask the right questions. People are fascinating. For me, I consider it a challenge: can I get someone to share with me something unique, funny, poignant, and all about them?
When I get nervous, my fall back is to talk about myself. I mean, I’m interesting! I have great stories to tell. About everything. About whatever you’re talking about. I don’t mean to try and one-up my story with your story. I need to stop and listen. To parrot back what they’re saying and show that I’m listening and understanding.
I didn’t grow up in what you might call a “touchy family”. After a few years in college, I realized that my roommates hugged. I went home over the holidays and suggested an experiment with my mom: giving her a hug goodbye. It’s my own mother, I know! But that first hug was as awkward as running into someone at the grocery store that you already said goodbye to in aisle 12. It may be a handshake or it may be a hug, depending on the situation and the person, but appropriate contact shows warmth.
I am anything BUT the expert on this, but do you know what I’ve learned? There’s a lot of authenticity in people who share their journeys, not simply their destinations. I’m on a journey to become a warmer, more trusting person. I want to do it to be a better friend, and I want to do it to be a better entrepreneur. Cuddy found that “humans constantly make biased decisions based on first impressions.” Are you sitting down with venture capitalists? Are you networking to grow your business? Are you hiring employees and striving to impress them with your company culture? The list of situations for women in business where first impressions matter can go on and on.
Be trusting. Be competent.
Be warm. Be competent.
Rock your first impression.