Compelling People

Summary Written by Jill Donahue
"This book is the culmination of our research and experience helping clients connect with audiences in boardrooms, on K street, at cocktail parties and Sunday picnics."

- Compelling People, page xiv

The Big Idea

Strength and warmth

"And if you understand how to project your own strength and warmth, you will change the way people see you too."- Compelling People, page xv

There are just two qualities that character judgments revolve around:

  • Strength: the root of respect, the ability to affect the world, and the gumption to take action.
  • Warmth: the root of affection, the sense of belonging and feeling cared for.

In simple terms, you want to project strength and warmth to make the best impression. Strength alone is not enough. To move beyond respect to admiration, we need to be liked. And to do that, we must project warmth. Warmth encompasses related concepts of empathy, familiarity and love. When you achieve this magical combination, your presence is a gift to people. You are compelling to others because you are compelling to yourself. You feel powerful and deeply connected.

Picture someone with the perfect combination of both strength and warmth. Maybe it was a favorite teacher. You know, the one who made you work hard and made it clear how much she cared about you. Isn’t that the impression we want to have as parents, as bosses, as colleagues? Sounds good, so how do we achieve this?

It’s not always be easy since there is an interesting hydraulic effect between strength and warmth. When one goes up, the other goes down. In fact, efforts to increase your strength may decrease your warmth and vice versa.

Interestingly, warmth is more important than strength. When people size each other up, warmth is their most important criterion. The simple truth boils down to this: If you want to be admired, you have to be liked. And if you want to be liked, you have to like people. The reciprocity effect is enduring. If you like someone, that person is inclined to like you back.

I teach my daughters to find something good in everyone because I know that if they can like the other kids, those kids will like them back. And this doesn’t change from the playroom to the boardroom. Another idea to project warmth the authors say is to share feelings, good or bad, happy or sad. I know that’s easier for some of us than for others. Maybe it will help encourage you, knowing that it will help you connect.

Insight #1

Projecting Strength and Warmth

"Strength consists of two basic elements: the ability to affect the world, and the gumption to take action."- Compelling People, page 2

What character traits must one project to show strength and warmth? Psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson studied how different cultural traditions around the world define character and found six moral virtues at the core of all of them. Interestingly, half are forms of strength and half are forms of warmth:

  1. Courage: the force of will to act in the face of danger
  2. Temperance: the principled exercise of self-control
  3. Wisdom: intellectual competence
  4. Justice: a commitment to fairness and equality
  5. Humanity: a deep concern for other’s well-being
  6. Transcendence: looking beyond day-to-day concerns to achieve a sense that we are all connected

Join our newsletter

Sign up for the very best book summaries right to your inbox.
We care about your data in our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Insight #2

Women just have to be perfect – that’s all

"When it comes to projecting a balance of strength and warmth, men just have it easier."- Compelling People, page 31

Professor Frank Flynn created a case study about the challenges of Heidi Roizen, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist; a successful woman in the male-dominated high-tech industry. When the professor assigned the case to his Columbia Business School students, he conducted a little experiment. For half the class, he changed Heidi’s name to Howard. The results were striking. Male and female students both judged Heidi and Howard as equally strong but when it came to warmth there was a stark difference. They saw Heidi as much less warm. The students were harsher on Heidi. While they thought she was equally competent, they:

  • didn’t like her,
  • wouldn’t hire her and
  • wouldn’t want to work with her.

As the mother of three strong girls; one of them in business school, this frustrates me no end. Research suggests that females needs to have more strength, skills and drive than a man in the same position. It gets even worse when looking at women working in male-dominated professions. They can be judged successful as long as they are perfect. When they make a mistake, they pay a steep one-strike-and-you’re-out price. Meaning that once they claw their way to the top, they find themselves in a very precarious position.

The trick, they say is to display strength without losing warmth. Anger, for example, does not work for women. A woman who chooses to express disapproval without a burst of anger will be much further ahead. Being assertive and firm, stern and determined while maintaining calm and in control. It is very important that we teach our girls how to manage their frustrations in a calm way.

The good news is that women are getting the job done. They are winning respect and changing the rules. As the presence of strong women in the workplace becomes the norm, women will face fewer penalties for being strong. As the world changes and we move further away from the hunter-gatherer days and continue to become more civilized, warmth will become strength and women’s contributions will be more valued.

I think a major revelation is that our ability to connect with people is something that can be learned. We all think of Bill Clinton as an incredible connector. It’s interesting to note that it didn’t just come naturally for him. He continuously sought out experts to learn how to connect with people. The best connectors are the ones who realize how much room they still have for improvement. So good for you for reading to the very end. Clearly you are on a path to even better connections in your life.

Read the book

Get Compelling People on Amazon.

John Neffinger

John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut are partners in KNP Communications, a firm specializing in presentation coaching and communications strategy for corporate and political clients. They also lecture regularly at Harvard Business School, Columbia Business School, MIT, Bennington College, and the Naval War College.

Subscribe to digest
Read about our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.