Warmth and Competence – MBA Learnings

Source: HBR

We discussed the tension between “Warmth and Competence” in the first week of classes at school. The HBR article that this chart is taken from has an apt title – “Connect, then Lead.” The thesis is – start with warmth and prioritize demonstrating warmth over competence. High warmth and high competence inspires admiration while low warmth and high competence inspires envy and other negative emotions.

Academics have since applied this concept in various ways to apply these findings to how various cultural/demographic/occupational groups are perceived in various parts of the world. As usual, I’m going to gloss over all that and focus on the implications for you and me.

I’ve been retrospectively examining myself on how I’ve been doing on warmth vs. competence. And, I’ve found that I’ve failed a lot more than I’ve succeeded. As you’ve probably realized, the point here is not “admiration” – being warm is just the right thing to do in most cases. However, I’ve realized I fail at this simply because behaving this way isn’t just a matter of wanting to (the fakers might disagree but there’s always a fake-your-way-to solution to most problems in the short run). In the long run, I believe getting to warmth is a journey that accurately represents our progress in our journey to true self confidence.

My thesis, and I gave this away in the previous line, is that it takes true self confidence to begin with warmth. Observing myself, I see a clear trend – I become myself as time passes by in an interaction. However, in the early stages (e.g. the first 10 minutes), I subconsciously choose to lead with competence. That’s definitely because leading with competence placates my insecurities and makes me feel at easy. As momentum builds and a sense of ease builds up, I get over those insecurities and move into confidence zone. Sometimes, it only takes a minute to make this switch. Other times, it takes up to ten. But, the pattern is there to see.

The only good piece of progress I can report is that I am becoming increasingly aware of it. And, as I become aware of it, I find that it becomes easier to get to that state of ease.