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Would You Rather Be Smart Or Trustworthy?

They say you only have one chance to make a first impression. People size you up in seconds—but what exactly is being evaluated?

Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy has said, that people make two judgments when they meet new acquaintances within a few seconds:

First, they determine whether they can trust the new person.

Second, they determine whether they can respect the new person.

This is why networking events for lawyers always seem so picture perfect: everyone wants to be seen as approachable, warm, and gregarious while also sounding competent, sharp, and intelligent. The law school machine tends to train lawyers to market themselves by sharing their intellectual competence (we are smart enough to handle your matter!). But in fact, warmth, or trustworthiness, turns out to be the most important factor in how people evaluate an individual (more seasoned attorneys can attest to this).

Researchers explain that this is because, from an evolutionary perspective, for our survival, it is more crucial to know whether a person deserves our trust. For centuries, it was more important to figure out if your fellow man was going to kill you and steal your possessions than if he was competent enough to solve a problem for you.

This is particularly true for lawyers who above all else, need to earn their clients’ trust.

What does this mean for you?

Competence is highly valued, but it is evaluated after trust is established. Focusing on flaunting your strengths can backfire.

Lawyers are so often concerned about coming across as smart and competent that it can lead them to skip social events and come off as unapproachable. These lawyers encounter a tough obstacle when they don’t get a job offer or land the client because nobody got to know and trust them as people. Only after you’ve established trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat.

Take a moment to reflect on how others perceive you. Evaluate how you introduce yourself and connect with others. Check whether you follow through with commitments. Make an effort to show some vulnerability to invite people in.

For more info on networking check out: Tips to Cultivating Your Network and Another Way to Look at Networking.

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