Your attentive glance, warm nod and quick smile. How much do such behaviors affect others? Enough to surprise researchers. When students in a study watch even brief (two, five or ten second) glimpses of strangers expressing these positive actions on soundless video clips, they are 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" says Harvard Nalini Ambady. 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 empathic, accepting, professional,optimistic, or supportive the teacher seemed.
No matter how thinly Ambady sliced the behavior, the more positive and likable the teaching assistants, 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.”
And how do 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 20 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 as the warm teacher to my left demonstrates. With those two studies in mind I’m going to practice being more warm and interested – especially when around someone who rubs me the wrong way. (That will take practice!)