A Harvard Psychologist Reveals the Two Things That Influence First Impressions Most

Whether you admit it or not, we all make judgments on others based on first impressions.

It takes just a few seconds to form opinions about people – whether good, bad, or ugly.

A new book by Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy offers insight as to what others are actually evaluating in the initial moments of sizing you up. Cuddy and fellow psychologists Susan Fiske and Peter Glick have been studying first impressions for 15 years – and have picked up on a few patterns along the way.

The book, “Presence,” reveals that people immediately answer two questions when they first meet you: Can I trust this person? And can I respect this person?

In the psychology world, these are referred to as warmth and competence – and having both things is a good thing.

According to Cuddy’s research, 80 to 90 per cent of a first impression is based on these two factors.

Not surprisingly, when it comes to business, Cuddy found competence to be the more important factor (people can be warm and likeable all they want, but that doesn’t mean they’re capable to better your business). In general, however, the most important factor in how people evaluate you is in your warmth and trustworthiness – and it all comes down to evolution.

“From an evolutionary perspective, it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust,” says Cuddy.

Competence is highly valued, according to Cuddy, but only after trust is established. For that reason, focusing too much on showcasing your intellect, skills and strengths can totally backfire. Whether in your personal or professional life, people are attracted to people who are approachable.

“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,” Cuddy says. “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.”

Of course, being warm and trustworthy isn’t something that you can force: if you’re not, most people will see through it right away.