The first time you meet a business acquaintance – it could be your new manager, a recent addition to your team, or a potential client. The moment that stranger sees you, his or her brain makes some computations. And these are made at lightning speed – you are making major decisions about one another in the first seven seconds of meeting.
And while you can’t stop people from making snap decisions – the human brain is hardwired in this way as a prehistoric survival mechanism – you can understand how to make those decisions work in your favour if you are able to know what exactly they are evaluating.
A professor at Harvard Business School, Amy Cuddy, has been studying first impressions along with psychologists for more than 15 years and have discovered patterns in these interactions. She wrote a book, Presence, and explains the process as follows:
When people meet you, they quickly answer two questions: Can I trust this person? Can I respect this person? Psychologists refer to this as warmth and competence respectively, and ideally you want to be perceived as having both.
People, especially in a professional environment, believe that competence is more important – after all, they want to prove that they are smart and talented enough to handle your business.
But in fact warmth or trustworthiness is the most important factor in how people evaluate you. From an evolutionary perspective, it is more crucial to survival to know whether a person deserves your trust. It makes sense when you consider that in cavemen days it was more important to figure out if your fellow man was going to kill you and steal all your food rather than if he was competent enough to build a good fire.
Competency is always highly valued, but it is evaluated only after trust has been established. And focusing too much on displaying your skills strength can backfire.
In the financial world CAs(SA) operate in, it will be easy to rather be concerned about coming across as smart and competent. And that can lead to you not asking for help and that might create an impression that you are unapproachable.
Cuddy writes in her book that 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 arrogant.
A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration, but only after he or she has established trust does the strength become a gift rather than a threat.
This month’s cover story features DJ Kumbula and Zakhe Khuzwayo and their road to building a successful company. And while they are chartered accountants, they do believe that softer issues like trustworthiness give a stronger foundation to any business. Read their inspiring story on page 12.