We all make many decisions regarding people on a daily basis. Some are major such as choosing a mate, a political candidate, who to invite to an important event and who to help or ask for help. Others are more temporary and have a less permanent effect. We choose who we speak to in public and how. Do we talk to the homeless person, the woman standing behind us in line? We choose who to sit next to in meetings or over lunch.
There is considerable research about our choices. When attending a class or other meeting for the first time most of us go to the persons who are most like us. Race, gender and age play a big role in our selections according to some studies. There is also considerable research around the topic of attractiveness. Generally, we attribute positive traits to attractive individuals. We see them as trustworthy. If they are successful we attribute it to their having worked and earned it. The unattractive we are more likely to see as devious and having succeeded through devious means. All this based on their looks.
We are influenced by how people dress, hairstyles, posture, how they walk, facial expressions and voice. Often we miss the words they say and hear only the whining voice, confident voice, nervous voice or hesitant voice.
I had experience some years ago that taught me a lesson about voices. A real estate woman was showing a house to me. As we walked around she brought up the current owners and said in what can only be called a gossipy voice, “You know, the wife is older than her husband.”
Now, it happens that I have friends and relatives where the wife is older and I love them dearly and am delighted to see their obvious happiness with each other. In spite of this, a few days later I was showing the same house to a friend of mine who is older than her husband. I found myself repeating the exact same gossipy words using the same gossipy tone. Fortunately, my friend reminded me of her situation. Even more fortunately, she is still my friend and I am super aware of how gossip sounds and much more likely to assess its value.
There are times when we need to make quick decisions. You can only take so long to decide where to sit on the bus. You need to recognize your discomfort when someone approaches you on the street. It is often best to play it safe rather than chance taking too much time trying to understand the source of your feelings. There are times, however, when it can be important to look closely.
Do you find yourself looking up to tall people more than just literally? Are you missing other, more important aspects of an individual?
Actors and politicians know how important these subtle influences can be — and use them. We can do the same. It can be helpful in creating confidence, for example, to deliberately exhibit posture, voice and walking style using the appearance of confidence as your guide. When you do this, you will, more often than not, begin to feel more confident.
— Dr. Sue Nesbitt teaches Human Services classes at Trinidad State Junior College