!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: The Warmth/Competence Model

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Warmth/Competence Model

In an earlier post, I discussed the work of Patricia Devine, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has shown that people can avoid acting in a prejudiced way by making a conscious effort to base their behavior on personal values that include being unbiased.

In the February 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Amy Cuddy, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, reports briefly on related research.

Cuddy, with colleagues Susan Fiske and Peter Glick, professors of psychology at Princeton University and Lawrence University, respectively, has investigated how people respond to a person they are meeting for the first time.

Cuddy argues that two questions instinctively go through a person's mind at a first meeting:
  • What are this person's intentions toward me?

  • Is this person capable of acting on those intentions?
The problem is that there is also an instinctive tendency for the person doing the sizing up to assume:
  • If the new acquaintance is a warm individual with benign intentions, s/he won't be very competent to act on those intentions.

  • Conversely, if the new acquaintance is cold with not-so-benign intentions, s/he will be competent to act on the intentions.
Cuddy goes on to outline the implications of this warmth/competence model of prejudice:1
We like to assist people we view as warm and block those we see as cold; we desire to associate with people we consider competent and ignore those we consider incompetent."
The obvious problem is that plenty of people are both warm and competent, and plenty of others are cold and incompetent. We need to be ready to consider all four possibilities when deciding, for example, whom to trust and whom to build connections with.

Cuddy recommends a straightforward approach to enhancing the level of conscious thought that goes into making such judgments as whom to hire, whom to put together on teams, and how to promote retention of high performing employees. The approach has two steps:
  1. Push yourself to be aware of how you form impressions. Avoid "sizing people up on the basis of stereotypical perceptions of warmth and competence."

  2. Separate the two dimensions. E.g., consider an individual's interpersonal warmth in its own right, and do the same for the individual's technical/functional competence.
The goal is to "recognize individuals' true talents, thus avoiding the high cost of mistaken judgments."

1 Cuddy contrasts the warmth/competence model to "the prevailing psychological view of prejudice — namely, that people simply favor 'us' and dislike 'them.'" She argues that the warmth/competence model is able to explain behaviors that don't fit the alternative us vs. them model, e.g., the tendency of many people to "disrespect the elderly while feeling positive toward them."


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