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First impressions count: Harvard psychologist says you're judged by two things when meeting someone new

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Amy Swales
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Is it better to be liked or respected?

It's a common workplace conundrum, and now a Harvard Business School psychologist, who has studied the science of first impressions for more than 15 years, says we are judged by two things when first meeting someone new – and the importance of each, especially in relation to career, may surprise some.

rex meeting

Having this guy behind will definitely make some kind of impression

In her book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, Amy Cuddy reveals the two questions everyone subconsciously asks themselves about a new person are ‘Can I trust this person?’ and ‘Can I respect this person?’, which are referred to by psychologists as ‘warmth’ and ‘competence’. And sounds a lot like the standard management dilemma many experience.

While many might believe that competence is the best quality to display first, especially in a work environment, Cuddy says from an evolutionary perspective, warmth is actually more important when new people are mentally assessing you – thus you should be more interested in them establishing trust in you as a person before having respect for your abilities.

thinkstock meeting someone new office

“Hmm, can I trust this woman not to eat my sandwiches if I leave them in the fridge?”

And she says focusing too much on displaying your strengths at work can even be detrimental – for instance, falling into the trap of never asking for help because you see it as a weakness, or not being involved in social activities actually resulting in you looking unapproachable and suspicious.

“If someone you're trying to influence doesn't trust you, you're not going to get very far,” she writes. “In fact, you might even elicit suspicion because you come across as manipulative.

“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.”

So instead of thrusting your CV in the face of everyone you meet in your new office, perhaps bring your mum along to tell everyone about that time you carried your grandma's shopping home from Lidl or something.

Images: Rex Features / Thinkstock

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Amy Swales

Amy Swales is a freelance writer who likes to eat, drink and talk about her dog. She will continue to plunder her own life and the lives of her loved ones for material in the name of comedy, catharsis and getting pictures of her dog on the internet.

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