Research shows a bad first impression can be overcome. But if you can avoid such a mishap altogether, why wouldn't you?

Science comes to our aid once again with a fascinating study from a power trio: Harvard, Yale, and MIT. The study shows that if your counterpart is holding a warm cup of coffee, it favorably predisposes them toward you.

In the study, two groups were handed either a hot cup of coffee or an iced coffee, and then were asked to rate a stranger's personality.

As Fast Company writer Lydia Dishman first reported, co-author of the study Lawrence Williams said in an interview, "What we found was that there was a significant difference between the two groups, such that participants who held the hot coffee cup saw person A as being more generous, more sociable."

Warmth gives impressions of warmth. Go figure.

Considering warmth more broadly (and less literally)

It just makes sense to show interpersonal warmth to get others to warm up to you. In my book Make It Matter, I talk about how important it is for a leader to mindfully stop being an ice king or queen. Coming across as cold can create doubts in your employees' minds about how you're perceiving them. People can read a lack of compassion and warmth a mile away, and they'll stay a mile away when they sense it.

On the making an impression and negotiating front, a lot has been written about the power of interpersonal warmth, with plenty of research to back it up.

How you can project warmth

So the latest coffee-based findings beg the question, what are other simple things we can do to project warmth and thus make a more favorable impression (besides buying someone a hot coffee or tea)? I offer help--a simple mnemonic to help you SET your mind to projecting warmth.

Signal warmth: This is about approaching a conversation with the mindset of sending tendrils of warmth out. When you first light a fire, it starts out predominantly blue, and then slowly warms up to become a warm orange. Think of your interactions with others in the same way. You can turn the exchange from blue to warm orange much more quickly if you're intentional in your approach. And such signals are simple--make eye contact, smile, nod.

Empathize and show interest: Prioritize being interested, not interesting. Ask follow-up questions. Make it about them, not you. Give a damn about what they're saying, and be certain to show empathy as appropriate. I'm continually amazed at what people will tell me, even people I've just met, just because I'm intently listening and interested. It's a sign that so few of our day-to-day interactions are underscored with genuine empathy and interest.

Touch: Of course, appropriate touches are the subject matter here; giving a light touch on the shoulder or arm, perhaps in conjunction with a heartfelt compliment, show of empathy, or bit of vulnerability. Research is clear on the power of touch for connecting us to our fellow human beings, yet it's often left behind because it requires genuine warmth and sincere interest or empathy (something we don't easily give). By the way, if you just extended a touch without the proper underlying signals, it would just be put-offish.  

So serve up some warmth to warm up your prospects. Plus, it's just good for karma, no?

Published on: Jan 24, 2019
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