Should we judge proposals the same way we judge people?
Perhaps the answer should be “yes.” According to Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist in the Harvard University Business School and the author of Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges (2015), first impressions are very important. People size us up in seconds, but what exactly are they evaluating? Cuddy thinks we usually answer this question incorrectly, which has implications for proposals and proposal professionals.
Cuddy believes that people quickly ask and answer two questions just seconds after meeting us:
• Can I trust this person?
• Can I respect this person?
According to Cuddy, many professionals answer these questions incorrectly because they believe that they are judged by their competence. Cuddy does not devalue competence. Of course it is very important, but she argues that competence is not very useful without another factor – warmth, or trustworthiness. She says that from an “evolutionary perspective, it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust.”
Cuddy’s argument dovetails with another common finding that may surprise proposal professionals. When coworkers in many different organizations are asked the most important trait they value in their fellow employees, the top one is the ability to “get along” with others. Not competence, not brains, and not skills. Getting along with others is another word for gaining the trust and respect of others.
While skills and knowledge are highly valued, Cuddy thinks that they come into play only after trust has been established. Consequently, she strongly recommends that businesspeople first establish their trustworthiness before emphasizing their other strengths.
If Cuddy is correct, proposal professionals should add another dimension to the way we develop and evaluate our own proposals. Perhaps we should be asking these questions of our proposals:
• Do they convey warmth and trustworthiness to reviewers?
• Do they convey a strong sense of respect to reviewers – self-respect for the offeror and respect for the potential funder or contractor?
As Cuddy says, “If someone you’re trying to influence doesn’t trust you, you’re not going to get very far; in fact, you might even elicit suspicion because you come across as manipulative.”
Perhaps we need to find ways – both with prose and graphics – to establish trust early and often in our proposals to support our technical, managerial, and personnel competencies.