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Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy says people judge you on two criteria

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Warmth and competence. In that order:

In her new book, "Presence," Cuddy says people quickly answer two questions when they first meet you:

  • 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.

Interestingly, Cuddy says that most people, especially in a professional context, believe that competence is the more important factor. After all, they want to prove that they are smart and talented enough to handle your business.

But in fact warmth, or trustworthiness, is the most important factor in how people evaluate you. "From an evolutionary perspective," Cuddy says, "it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust." It makes sense when you consider that in cavemen days it was more important to figure out if your fellow man was going to kill you and steal all your possessions than if he was competent enough to build a good fire.

While competence is highly valued, Cuddy says it is evaluated only after trust is established. And focusing too much on displaying your strength can backfire.

Panda, aren't you glad I made you read that book about evolutionary psychology?

Yes! Building trust -- and communicating who to trust to others -- is the main reason we have language. 

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