You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover – Or Can You?

Communication Respect


You and I meet all kinds of people in all kinds of unique situations.  Whether you think it is reasonable or not, or even somewhat Darwinian, people make quick and early assessments about us. It doesn’t matter if the interaction is business or social, when a person meets us for the first time they ask themselves two questions.

The answers to these two questions will impact how they think about you and me and how they behave towards us. Professor Susan Fiske of Princeton University has shown that all social judgments can be boiled down to these two dimensions (Fiske et al., 2007):

1. How warm is this person? The idea of warmth includes things like trustworthiness, friendliness, helpfulness, sociability and so on. Initial warmth judgments are made within a few seconds of meeting you.

2. How competent is this person? Competency judgments take longer to form and include things like intelligence, creativity, perceived ability, and so on.

Susan Fiske’s research has looked at different cultures, times and types of social judgments, and these two concepts come up repeatedly. The primacy of warmth and competence seems to involve reactions to  the questions of friend versus foe, and a person’s capacity for helping or hurting us.

Character Move: Consciously accept that we judge and are being judged very quickly and very early during new interactions.  Being Respectful, one of the tenants of the Character Triangle (CT), will promote friendliness and warmth (being a friend and not a foe). Self-accountability, the second tenant, drives competence (I own my own behavior and contribution).  And third, Abundance adds to the trust (expanding the “pie” and not fight over who gets the biggest piece).

Practice the Character Triangle and you will position yourself for a strong first impression. Watch the behavior of others relative to the CT and you can effectively and quickly determine whether to “pull” or “push.” In this case “taking cover” means proactively designing first impressions… the cover of your “book.”

Taking “(book) cover” in the Triangle,