You already know that making a good first impression can go a long way. But forget all the advice you’ve received about dressing to impress or putting on a cheesy smile. Turns out, the true secret to building a lasting connection reaches much deeper than what you wear. (Saying this one word instantly makes you more trustworthy.)
According to Amy Cuddy, a Harvard Business School professor who has researched first impressions for more than 15 years, everyone (consciously or subconsciously) asks two questions when they meeting someone new: Can I trust this person? And can I respect this person? (These magic phrases can save an awkward conversation.)
Both questions help you measure a person’s warmth and competence, respectively. But, Cuddy says, you should put gaining your peers’ trust over winning their respect—even in a workplace setting. “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,” Cuddy wrote in her book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. “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.”
But that’s not the only way you can start off on the right foot with a stranger. Your physical appearance matters, too. A 2017 study by psychologist Leslie Zebrowitz of Brandeis University found that people use four cues to judge your face: babyfacedness, familiarity, fitness, and emotional resemblance. While you can’t control all of these factors, you can improve your “emotional resemblance” by using body language that builds trust naturally.
The bottom line: The next time you meet someone new, focus on gaining their trust—not winning them over with a firm handshake.
Originally published as People Judge You Based on These Two Things, According to a Harvard Psychologist on ReadersDigest.com.