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The key to making a great first impression

The key to making a great first impression

What does it take to make a good first impression? For years we’ve been told a strong handshake, eye contact and appearing confident is the winning formula. But is it actually right? 

According to Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy, that approach may not actually be the best. Research shows that people size you up in seconds and they are evaluating two key things – Can I trust this person? Can I respect this person? And in that order.

Most business people believe that competence is the more important first impression factor, but in fact trustworthiness (also referred to as warmth) is the critical factor in how people first evaluate you. This has to do with our deep evolutionary bias, as it is crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust.

While competence is highly valued, it is evaluated only after trust. ‘If someone you’re trying to influence doesn’t trust you, you’re not going to get very far,’ Cuddy says. ‘A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration’. But it’s only after you’ve established trust, that strength and competence become a gift. If they are displayed too early then it’s seen as a threat.

When we form a first impression of another person, it’s not really a single impression, we’re really forming two. We’re judging how trustworthy the person is by answering the question, ‘What are this person’s intentions toward me?’ A split second later, we’re asking ourselves, ‘How competent is this person?’ Research shows that these two trait dimensions account for 80 to 90 percent of an overall first impression, across most cultures.

The irony is that when we first meet someone, we’re looking for trust or warmth, but we’re trying to project competence and confidence. To help make the best impression, scientific research tells us that giving trust builds trust. If you are trusting and project trust, then people are more likely to trust you.

So make your next first impression built on projecting trust and warmth and you’ll be off to a great start.

Shannon Lyndon-Lugg is is a mama to two lovely children and the founder of Lyndon Lugg Consulting, With expertise in human resources, leadership development, diversity and performance, Shannon works with companies to improve leadership, inclusion and diversity, culture and performance. 


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