When we meet someone new, we quickly answer two questions: “Can I trust this person?” and “Can I respect this person?” In our research, my colleagues and I have referred to these dimensions as warmth and competence respectively.
Usually we think that a person we’ve just met is either more warm than competent or more competent than warm, but not both in equal measure. We like our distinctions to be clear — it’s a human bias. So we classify new acquaintances into types. Tiziana Casciaro, in her research into organizations, refers to these types as lovable fools or competent jerks.
Occasionally we see people as incompetent and cold — foolish jerks — or as warm and competent — lovable stars. The latter is the golden quadrant, because receiving trust and respect from other people allows you to interact well and get things done.
But we don’t value the two traits equally. First we judge warmth or trustworthiness, which we consider to be the more important of the two dimensions. Oscar Ybarra and his colleagues found, for instance, that people process words related to warmth and morality (friendly, honest, and others) faster than words related to competence (creative, skillful, and others).
Why do we prioritize warmth over competence? Because from an evolutionary perspective, it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust. If he doesn’t, we’d better keep our distance, because he’s potentially dangerous, especially if he’s competent. We do value people who are capable, especially in circumstances where that trait is necessary, but we only notice that after we’ve judged their trustworthiness.
Excerpted from PRESENCE Copyright © 2018 by Amy Cuddy.
Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.