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Do we warm to the Easter bunny and can she deliver the eggs?

Many of you will, of course, have enjoyed the paper on Universal dimensions of social cognition: warmth and competence, as published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, volume 11, number 2!!! I confess I’ve only recently got round to it. But, having read it, I’m fascinated by the conclusions and their implications for the people I work with.

Academics from the universities of Princeton, Northwestern and Lawrence, including the fabulous Amy Cuddy, tell us that people who are perceived as both warm and competent elicit uniformly positive emotions and behaviour from those they communicate with. And, importantly, that warmth judgments carry more weight than competence in our reactions.

Hence, training a group of lawyers this week, we worked hard to balance ‘emotional’ and factual content so that they could make a human connection with their audiences. We used content, tone and non-verbal cues to cut through the dense, technical material; we explored how to (a) understand and (b) resonate with an audience to make them feel valued, respected and included. We gave the lawyers ‘permission’ to let their personality come through rather than applying a cold veneer of professionalism. We acknowledged that it’s no longer enough just to tell people stuff.

Similar issues have emerged recently when training people in creative industries. Their objective is to be able to ‘sell’ concepts more effectively and to communicate better when their ideas are challenged by clients. How to avoid responding in an overly defensive/aggressive manner? How to maintain warmth and empathy while fighting your corner? This is indeed a communications challenge, especially for people who are often more comfortable with images than words. In this case it’s about respecting the other viewpoint; taking audiences on a journey, and demonstrating your own enthusiasm and excitement for the concept/lamp/colour/material.

At the heart of all this is having the courage to open up to an audience: to let the defences down; to show them honesty, vulnerability and empathy while at the same time demonstrating competence. This is tough for many professionals.

One thing’s for sure though, having audiences warm to us is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s essential.