No matter how kind, compassionate, or empathetic you have become, the moment you meet someone, the unconscious part of your brain instantly formulates a preliminary assessment of that person. Amy Cuddy, a Harvard Business School professor who’s been studying the science of first impressions for years, says the two basic questions the brain answers when sizing up a new acquaintance are, in order:
- Can I trust this person?
- Can I respect this person?
In an evolutionary sense, Cuddy states that one might think of an early human – a caveman, if you will – suddenly greeted by a stranger who shows up at the mouth of his cave holding a large club. The caveman will first want to make sure the new fellow isn’t going to bludgeon him and steal his winter meat supply, before he considers inviting him in to see how well his new acquaintance can build a fire. Trust must be established before any thought is given to respect or admiration based on ability.
Yet, how many of you lead with your competence, rather than warmth, when connecting with others? No doubt you’ve listened to a presentation from a politician, leader, or salesperson who showcased their smarts, but your brain is still left questioning whether this person is capable of causing you harm.
Being a smart, talented, and educated individual is obviously desirable, as no one wants to partner with or follow an idiot. Yet, being able to establish trust and warmth with others is most important.
Here are three ways to lead with warmth and connect more effectively with everyone you meet:
- Genuine Gestures. Thanks to mirror neurons, most individuals are savvy enough to feel the difference between a leader who truly cares and one who is simply going through the motions. Genuine smiles crinkle the eyes that are also focused on the individual, rather than darting around the room due to distractions. Listening with both head and heart includes acknowledging nods and thoughtful follow-up questions. Polite (not abrupt) requests are critical.
- Share Your Story. Recently, I had the privilege of following a leader on the platform who told his high-performing team what keeps him up at night. Given my position in the room, I witnessed individuals put down their smartphones and pens, lean in, and listen fully. Our personal stories laced with truth and vulnerability make us human and relatable.
- Speak Your Truth. Leaders who encourage teams to “take some down time” at the same time they dramatically increase project loads are disingenuous. Sales people who tell prospective customers “I’m not here to sell you anything” are liars. After all, how can others trust you when you send mixed messages?
Mastering the art of putting others at ease – thus fostering that vital human connection – will ensure your caveman victory in the survival of the fittest!
Colette Carlson is a keynote speaker and human behavior expert who knows the difference between trendy topics and timeless truths when it comes to successful business practices. Learn more about Colette’s keynote seminars.