You already know that making a good first impression is important in many social situations. It’s even more important for career success.

People judge you in seconds, but what exactly are they evaluating?

You probably think first impression has a lot to do with dressing to impress or putting on a smile.

Turns out, building a lasting connection with anyone reaches much deeper than your skill, expertise, experience, or competence.

According to Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist Amy Cuddy, how people initially judge you has little to do with your skills.

Instead, anyone you meet for the first time, subconsciously ask themselves two questions:

  • Can I trust this person?
  • Can I respect this person?

Psychologists refer to these dimensions as warmth and competence, respectively, and ideally, you want to be perceived as having both.

Cuddy studied first impressions alongside fellow psychologists Susan Fiske and Peter Glick for more than 15 years and discovered patterns in human interactions.

According to Cuddy, trustworthiness is everything if you are keen on making a good impression on anyone you meet in life and at work. “From an evolutionary perspective,” she writes in her book Presence, “it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust.”

While competence is highly valued at work, Cuddy says that it is evaluated only after trust is established. And focusing too much on displaying your strength can backfire. In order for your competence to matter, people must trust you first.

As Cuddy said, “A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration, but only after you’ve achieved trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat.”

To show your worth, skill or competence, focus on establishing trust first. show that people can rely on your and respect you.

As Cuddy said, “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.” How does your presence affect others’ behaviour?

So how do you build trust quickly? How do you come across as more likeable and trustworthy — in a genuine way?

Trust and warmth are created when people feel understood — and they need to be doing a lot of talking for that to happen. “Let the person you’re meeting speak first. Let them take the lead in the conversation, and you can always ask good questions to help this along,” says Dr Travis Bradberry.

Use positive body language to your advantage — enthusiastic tone, maintaining eye contact, and smiling are great ways to establish strong connection.

When you commit to a conversation, focus all your energy on the conversation. Don’t practice selective hearing. Put your phone out of sight — it can interrupt the conversation and show them you don’t respect their presence.

Listen actively — a conversation technique thatrequires the listener to fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said. Use your body language to make them aware you’re listening.

Invest time to get find out about them before you meet — people love it when you know things about them that they didn’t have to share. “This demonstrates competence and trustworthiness by highlighting your initiative and responsibility,” writes Bradberry.

In any conversation, the goal is Presence — fully engaging, listening and showing your authentic self. While you can’t control all of the physical appearance factors to make a good impression, you can improve your “emotional resemblance” by using body language that builds trust naturally.

The next time you interview for a job, audition for a role, go on a date, pitch an idea, speak up in a meeting, or attend an event, focus on building trust and respect first— not showing them how competent or skilful you are right from the beginning. Once you’ve established trust, then you can prove your skills and experience.

This story was originally published on Medium.

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