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Your attentive glance, warm nod and early smile. How much do such behaviors affect others? Enough to surprise researchers. When students in a study watch even brief (two, five or 10 second) glimpses of strangers expressing these positive actions on soundless video clips, the student were deeply influenced.

“While students see just a flash of a teacher their first feeling highly correlates to their end-of-semester rating of that teacher” said trailblazing Stanford social psychologist, Nalini Ambady, who tragically died in 2013. Along with study co-author Robert Rosenthal, they started by showing students 10-second clips.

Then “thin-sliced it down” to five and then two-second clips, having participants rate them on the 15 characteristics including how empathetic, accepting, professional, optimistic and supportive the teacher seemed.

No matter how thinly Ambady sliced the behavior of those in the study, the more positive and likable the teaching assistants appeared to be, the higher their evaluations. Concluded Ambady, “One would think that teacher smarts, preparation and organization should count – and I’m sure it does to some extent but behavior, charisma, and the factors that go into holding an audience count more.” This same startling quick effect is evident in other situations as diverse as speed dating and strangers asked to rate each other for a study.

And how does surgeons’ behavior towards patients affect the number of malpractice suits they get? Ambady found similar results. Key was voice tone. When she tracked just that trait,”We were really amazed. With just 40 seconds of each doctor’s voice, you could predict malpractice claims. For instance, surgeons who sounded more unfeeling or dominant were more likely to have been sued in the past.”

It’s never too early to start practicing exuding warmth when speaking. With these two studies in mind I’m going to practice being more warm and attentive in vocal tone an expression, especially when around someone who rubs me the wrong way. That will take practice yet I’ll keep in mind that wise maxim, it is easier to act your way into a better way of feeling than to feel your way into a better way of action.

moving from me to we


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