Learning with TBOE

Shaun Kenny at The Business of Events Conference

Work on warmth and strength to succeed, says master of influence

Posted on June 7th, 2019 in Event News, Industry Insight, Leadership

We’ve all met someone who seems to have it all. When they talk, people listen. If they make suggestions, others act. And when they walk in a room, people notice them. That X factor may be hard to define for some people but according to Shaun Kenny, director of People of Influence, it’s down to two key factors: warmth and strength.

He spoke to the audience at TBOE 2019 about what these traits mean and how we can improve them in ourselves. As people who deliver messages, if we want to be believed we first need people to trust us as messengers.

The questions that form a first impression 

Warmth and strength are the two key traits that we are judged on, both in terms of first impressions and on a long-term basis. This comes from the questions we ask when we first encounter someone – whether we’re in a prehistoric tribe or joining a conference call.

Shaun asked the audience to come up with questions to ask of a stranger were they in a tribe, and the nature of the questions was along the lines of finding out if they were a friend or foe and if there was any danger.

In essence, that’s what studies have found. Shaun said, “Research suggests there’s two fundamental questions and we should ask them in a particular order. The first question we should ask is ‘what is this person’s intentions towards me?’ This is happening when you meet your colleagues, it’s happening at this event. There’s a second question that’s related: ‘do they have the ability to carry out those intentions?’

The Smiling Ox Paradox

To make this couplet easy to remember, Shaun has come up with the Smiling Ox Paradox. An ox is naturally strong, but it’s rare to see one that smiles. And while we all want to make good impressions, it’s rare to find someone who is both warm and strong.

If you’re warm and weak, you may be liked but not trusted with important work. If you’re cold and strong, you’re likely begrudgingly respected. If you’re cold and weak, you have a lot of work to do.

Shaun said, “For those people who are seen as both warm and strong, they are universally admired, universally respected and universally influential across cultures. The paradox is we generally see people as either warm or strong.”

“If you can be seen as both, you are rare and you have incredible power. It’s not easy; it’s a bit of a seesaw effect. As one goes up, often the other appears to go down.”

Being a warm person

Shaun asked his audience to do an exercise: to break off into pairs with the intention to make your partner feel special. He observed their actions and saw that many of them succeeded by doing small things that we can all do: give compliments, make eye contact, turn in towards each other, smile a lot and find common ground.

He said, “Most of us are on autopilot when we turn up to a meeting, when we’re about to send an email, when we’re about to get up and present, when we’re about to go on a phone call.”

“We don’t ask ourselves ‘what is my intention here?’ and ‘how do I want to make the other person feel?’ We just don’t do it and yet, those people who do that over and over again, it just happens that they come across, and are, very warm as human beings.”

“The essence is this. Warmth is about how someone feels in your presence. Not even how much how they feel about you but how they feel about themselves.”

Being a strong person

While being a warmer person can be achieved with a few small changes, becoming a stronger person – or being seen as a stronger person – can take more effort.

Shaun said, “Strength is about competence, it’s about commitment – you do what you say you’re going to do, it’s about your confidence and it’s about your composure under pressure. Here’s the tragedy, there are people who have this trait but are not seen to have it because of something in the way they communicate.”

“The more power someone has, the slower they can go. It’s a status trigger. Powerful people know that no one will interrupt. People who speak quickly are worried that they have to get their words out because someone might interrupt, it’s a low status trigger.”

He then showed a video of Barack Obama as an example. When something went wrong at a press conference, Obama didn’t panic, he continued to speak slowly, he stood up tall and he was in control – all signs of a strong leader.

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