Watch lawyers filing into a courthouse, and you won't see a great many grins.  An excess of cheer seldom attends a deposition or negotiation.  And lawyers don't often tell jokes well.

What accounts for that?  Stress?  A grim take on the human condition?  Poor social skills?

Maybe lawyers seem so serious because they, more than others, want people to see them capable first and friendly second.

An article Blawgletter read a week ago and thought about since supports that view.  The piece, "The Psyche on Automatic", reviews research into "how people perceive and categorize others."  Social psychologist Amy Cuddy points to two "critical variables" — "warmth" and "competence" — that others sense about us right away.

Others feel your warmth first.  That allows them to predict whether you mean them good or ill.  Competence comes next.  It alerts people to your ability to do what you intend.  And it counts less than warmth.

People tend to view warmth and competence as warring, Cuddy says.  "If there's a surplus of one trait, they infer a deficit of the other."  Nice guys finish last sort of thing.  (What lawyer wants that?)  And people in general prize competence in themselves more than they value warmth.  We'd guess that goes double for professionals, who depend on a high degree of skill to earn a living.

The article points out that adding warmth to your persona can yield big dividends.  "The most advantaged category . . . is warm/competent; that perception evokes admiration and two kinds of behavior:  active facilitation (helping) and passive facilitating (cooperation)."  Which sounds good.

The article also offers tips on improving how others perceive you.  (Lean forward!  Stand up straight!  Uncross your arms!)  

We enjoyed it and bet you will, too.