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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

7 Science-Backed Ways to Seem Smarter at Work

By Erinn Bucklan

If you haven’t yet heard of the hot area of psych research called “embodied cognition,” listen up. The first impression you make may have nothing to do with the words that come out of your mouth. Scientists are discovering that our bodies may be making snap judgements and sending messages to our brains before we even speak. From the temperature in a room to the way we’re seated, our physical world can shape what we think and influences our opinions of each other.

Want some groundbreaking ideas on how to capitalize on (or even improve) your image before your next interaction? Read on for the latest insightful research on how you can subtly (but powerfully) manipulate how you’re perceived.

1. If You Want to Seem: Thoughtful

Have you arranged a meeting with a client whose opinion you want to sway? Hit Starbucks first. Handing someone a hot drink that they can hold in their hands can influence their view of you, say researchers. When subjects warmed up their hands with a hot cup of coffee before meeting someone new, they actually had a more caring and thoughtful impression of them.

Need a raise? Bring a hot tea to your boss. Israeli University Business School scientists have found that participants are willing to pay more when they held something warm, too.

2. If You Want to Seem: Powerful

Running a presentation and want attendees to take your findings more seriously? Offer handouts on heavy clipboards, found University of Amsterdam scientists in a study published in Psychological Science. The audience just may think better of you. When subjects held a weighty object in their hands, they made judgements of higher monetary value, were fairer in decision-making, and even gave more thoughtful answers. Said main study author, Nils Jostmann: “These findings suggest that, much as weight makes people invest more physical effort in dealing with concrete objects, it also makes people invest more cognitive effort in dealing with abstract issues.”

3. If You Want to Seem: Trustworthy

Your scruples may come down to how you sit, found a series of business school studies conducted by researchers from Columbia, Harvard, Berkeley, Northwestern, and MIT. The studies explored the nature of dishonesty. Their results were surprising: How you sit at your desk just may influence your judgement. Subjects who sat at vast desks were more likely to cheat on tasks than those in smaller (think: cubicle-sized) workspaces. In another example, those who sat in wide, open chairs were more likely to act recklessly than those in smaller, tighter quarters.

The study authors conclude that your unconscious posture has a lot more to do with your thought process about boundaries than previously thought.

4. If You Want to Seem: Competent

Never underestimate the effect your pearly whites have on the perception of your job performance. Giving genuine smiles around the office can affect how colleagues judge your work, suggests recent Penn State research. When you smile often, you convey a friendliness that goes a long way toward a good first impression, found the scientists. Subjects who grinned more were given a higher rating of competence compared to those who remained tight-lipped while going about their work.

5. If You Want to Seem: Dependable

According to Harvard University psychologists, dolling ourselves up, ladies, can boost our professional reputation in subconscious ways. When male and female participants were asked to rate faces with and without colorful cosmetics, the application of such extras as lipstick and eyeshadow made the women’s faces appear more dependable, trustworthy, and friendly. (Sigh.)

While it may not be a surprise that making yourself appear more attractive, or put together, would correlate with more positive perceptions, the authors also found that this effect held true even when the amount of makeup changed. It didn’t matter if the makeup was natural, moderate, or even made a “glamorous” impression. Women were still given high marks for business acumen when they stepped up their cosmetics. This is not to say that we should all be running out to buy eye shadow (we hope)—but a little cosmetic effort seems to go a long way.

6. If You Want to Seem: Influential

Turn up the heat in your office when you want to sway others to think your way, found Chinese business school research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Subjects were more likely to go along with others’ opinions when rooms were set to the temperature of 77 degrees F than a cooler 61 degrees F. “Ambient temperature is another factor that influences the perceived validity of others’ opinions,” wrote study authors.

In fact, this conformity, and blind trust of others viewpoints, even applied to financial decisions. Those sitting in warmer rooms more likely went along with the rest when deciding whether to buy or sell stocks. The authors hypothesize that warm weather gives us a “warm and fuzzy” feeling about peers so we trust their points of view more readily.

7. If You Want to Seem: Knowledgeable

Move from the conference room to the comfy confines of your couch, say scientists, if you are about to do some negotiations. The study authors created a series of studies that found a relationship between touch and perception.

In one, participants were asked to rate an employee’s performance while handling either a hard surface of wood or a soft textile. Those who were in contact with the wood gave the employee a poorer grade than those near the softer fabric. In another test, the subjects were in contact with either a rough surface or, again, a softer one. This time, too, the subjects handling the rougher object were considered more adversarial than those in kinder, gentler physical environs. You’ll never look at a meeting across a hardwood desk the same way again.

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