My last post looked at a study by social psychologist Amy Cuddy who discovered that “warmth and competence” are the two traits we most desire to see in other people. If you look at the Fancy Chart below you can see Pity and Envy are two emotions we often feel when faced with the spectrum of those two factors. The other two are Contempt and Admiration.
Contempt – the intersection between “cold and incompetent” – is one of those feelings we usually reserve for people who we feel have wronged us with seemingly no remorse. They have acted, or chosen not to act, selfishly and with complete disregard for consequences.
It's a pretty fair guess that the most despised person in America as of this writing is pharmaceutical CEO Martin Shkreli. He was publicly branded a pariah after it was announced he had raised the price of a life-saving drug from $13.50 per pill, to $750.00 per pill, overnight. News commentators wore out their thesaurus looking for synonyms for "contempt." It's a natural instinct when you hear something so seemingly callous, justified or not.
Cuddy found low-income or state-supported populations often fall into this category. If you are suspicious that poor people aren't doing enough to get themselves out of poverty and perhaps taking advantage of the system, you will likely have little empathy for them. And as Cuddy points out, this is a normal emotional reaction.
But, as we all know from our rocky office and romantic relationships, acting purely on emotion usually doesn't end well. It's pretty clear regularly feeling contempt is an unhealthy way to view the world. You can't stop forming a first impression – humans after are all emotional creatures – but you can give the benefit of the doubt. When a client tells me how angry they get at stupid managerial decisions, I advise them to take a breath and not assume incompetence. Few people are deliberately inept and out to get us. Likewise, think about the last time your feelings were hurt and after talking it out you admitted, “Oh, that’s not what I thought you meant.”
Tom Hanks is often referred to as “the nicest guy in Hollywood.” He's won multiple Golden Globes, Emmys, Oscars and a whole bunch of other awards for his undeniable talent. As an actor myself I think: that guy is super nice and super talented! I want to be that! When I get my first Emmy I'll let you know how it's going.
Sticking with the Star Trek theme from the previous post, Captain Picard is considered one of the most admired diplomats in the galaxy! His command of language and alien societies combined with warmth and agreeability are undeniable. And Vulcans aren't the only one who thinks so! I recommend an excellent book by Wess Roberts, called “Star Trek: Make It So: Leadership Lessons from Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Take two minutes to see the master at work.
Do you remember your favorite mentor or teacher? Chances are he or she was both smart and made you feel good about yourself. I think of Mr. Quirk, my high school Advanced Composition teacher. He knew writing better than anyone and got people excited about it. And he always had time for a chat when we ran into each other in the library. I admired him. That experience informs how I interact with my students today.
Amy Cuddy’s study shows us what first impressions we make on people. The good news is since we know what qualities affect that perception – warmth and competence – we have an opportunity to make sure we stay nice and cozy in the “Admiration” quadrant by monitoring our behavior and increasing those qualities. Practice your presentation or interview, show a genuine interest in other people. Take command of your starship!