Jacky Sherman

The Consultant's Consultant

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Business Networking Skills: The Signals We Use To Judge

Why we should pay attention, then ignore them ...

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I've been re-reading Daniel Kahneman's book 'Thinking, Fast and Slow'. It's the best book I've ever read to make you think before you put too much faith in your own snap judgements ...

The signals we use to judge tell us about a person within moments of meeting them!

The signals we use to judge tell us about a person within moments of meeting them!

copyright: mangostar / 123rf stock photo

He explains beautifully how our unconscious brain races ahead and makes snap judgement and our conscious brain usually just accept it. We call it 'intuition' or maybe 'that gut feeling'. And we use it to assess others and are assessed by others in return.

"It works most of the time but sometimes it can be just downright silly!"

There is one silly judgement that I think is relevant to networking. How we make an assessment of who is competent at the first instant that we notice them. I need to take you down the road a bit from the initial research.

Kahneman talks about some research done by Alex Todorov at Princeton. It has its roots in a basic skill essential for survival out on the savannah where our brains were wired to make a rapid judgement of how safe it is to interact with a stranger.

Todorov showed that we automatically evaluate, in a single glance, two potentially crucial facts about that stranger. How dominant they are (and therefore potentially a threat) and how trustworthy they are likely to be friendly or hostile.

Sounds very useful out on the savannah where strangers may be out to kill you. Instrumental when networking to suss people out, you’d think?

"Well, beware ... read on first!"

So what signals do we use to make this snap judgement? Well, we look them in the face. For dominance, it’s the shape of their face, and particularly a strong square chin. And trustworthiness is assessed with a smile or frown.

Not terribly reliable in the modern world, I hear you say. Yet what I found fascinating is that we still use them because they are hard-wired into us.

Aren’t we drawn towards people who smile? And if you don't think you’re judging people by the shape of their chin, think of the derogatory expression 'chinless wonder' to describe someone who is weak.

Remember, we are not aware that we are doing this so as it is our unconscious mind that does so, and what we experience is merely an intuition about that person.

"There’s more though!"

Todorov discovered we have extended this in our modern world to use these expressions to make intuitive judgements about people’s competence. He showed people pictures of men’s face for just a tenth of a second. Then got them to judge each face as to whether they were competent and likeable.

The results showed a good match between those judged competence and the squareness of their chin and a slight confident-appearing smile. Likeability wasn’t matched with anything.

Unbeknown to the people assessing these photos, they were all political candidates for elections. He discovered that the results for competence were a significant predictor of who actually won the election, whereas likeability showed no such match.

Kahneman then goes on to say that these results have been replicated across all sorts of elections in a wide variety of countries. Reassuring to know that people chose their politicians based on an assessment of competence rather than just being a good guy!

Having decided subconsciously that this person is competent we want to trust our gut feeling so we then use our conscious brain to find further evidence to support it.

What we need to remember is that there is actually no evidence to support the belief that the squareness of your chin or a winning smile means you are more competent.

"What can we take away from this for our networking where we’re looking to make a favourable impression?"

This all happens in that immediate moment on seeing someone for the first time. Well, plastic surgery to get a squarer chin seems a bit extreme, so you’re left with perfecting your smile. As a fake smile is also detectable, I recommend preparing to go networking with a positive and welcoming approach from the moment you enter the door.

Leave your worries in the car park and focus being pleased to see everyone you meet. Choose a group or event at a time and place where you feel comfortable and welcomed so that your smile is natural.

Lastly, remember also that your brain has already primed you to judge others on their competence in this way and it’s just as unreliable for you. So despite what your gut is telling you, seek out evidence that contradicts it and get to know someone on better tests of their competence than the look on their face.

After all, the first time you met them they may simply have been nervous or had a bad journey. Oh, and smile when you greet them and you’ll get a smile in return. A genuine relationship is born.

"Would you like to know more?"

If you'd like to talk further about the signals we use to judge people and when to listen to or ignore them, do call me on 07970 638857 or click here to ping me an email and let's see how I can help you.

Until next time ...


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