Harvard Psychologist: People’s First Impression of You is Based on 2 Basic Criteria…

It is no news that first impressions matter. Whether it is during a professional or social activity, the first impression that you leave with people will shape their perception of you as a person. Multiple factors are influencing the way people judge your appearance when first meeting you: clothing, intelligence, hairstyle, how you move, the way you talk, the power of your handshake, and more. These factors quickly help people decide whether you are successful, a great leader, dominant, smart, extrovert, etc.

Two basic criteria

However, according to Harvard Psychologist Amy Cuddy, who have been studying patterns of first impressions for more than 15 years, people answer two basic questions during a first hand impression that will determine whether they like you, and want to conduct business with you:

  1. Can I trust this person?
  2. Can I respect this person?


According to Amy Cuddy, trustworthiness, which is referred to as warmth within the psychological discipline, is the most important factor influencing people’s judgement of you. Respect is referred to as competence, and before people assess your competence they will have assessed and have a clear perception of the trustworthiness you signal.

The argument is taking its starting point in a evolutionary perspective: It is more important for peoples’ survival that they can trust other people not to steal all your possessions from you or kill you, than it is to know whether other people excel at a certain task.

Implications for professional activities

Thus, even if competence is a highly valued characteristic, Amy Cuddy says that it is evaluated after trust is established. The implications of these patterns of first hand impressions are very important when it comes to professional activity: People tend to believe that competence is the most important factor to signal, but by focussing too much on your talent and competences, people might subconsciously get the wrong perception of whether you are trustworthy or not, which ultimately can cause them to discard you as a new employee or business partner. Hence, too much focus on competence might backfire. Thus, you want to have and signal both characteristics, but you should be aware of how you use them during the first meeting with potential new business partners, new employers, or other that you would like to have in your professional network.

Therefore, when engaging in professional, and social activities for that matter, we always encourage you to pay attention to the following:

  • Make yourself presentable according to the audience: Be aware that clothing, haircut, beard, makeup, and fingernails fit into the professional settings.
  • Consider your language: Make sure that you adjust your every day language to the activity you are attending. Maybe you do not benefit from cursing if the people attending the activity are conservative, and do not benefit from using academic language if the people attending are not fund of speaking that language.
  • Posture: A good straight posture signals confidence. Furthermore, use your posture to indicate interest in the topic you’re discussing with you counterpart.
  • Use gestures to bring your message alive and emphasize you key points.
  • Make sure to have a firm handshake and maintain eye contact when appropriate.
  • SMILE! Good positive moods are contagious, and by distributing it you quickly gain goodwill.


Read more:

Amy Cudder’s book “Presence“: http://www.amazon.com/Presence-Bringing-Boldest-Biggest-Challenges/dp/0316256579?tag=bisafetynet-20




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