One idea critical to increasing a person’s persuasiveness is the so-called “halo effect” — which doesn’t receive as much attention as it should. When we judge others positively in one aspect of their lives, we often judge them positively in other unrelated aspects. This is known scientifically as exaggerated emotional coherence, and more commonly referred to simply as the halo effect.

Edward Thorndike first observed the halo effect in 1920 via a paper called “The Constant Error in Psychological Ratings,” which analyzed military officer rankings of subordinates. If a soldier boasted a strong physical appearance, he also was considered to have impressive leadership abilities. If he were loyal, he also was rated as highly intelligent.

The correlations proved way too consistent for Thorndike, who determined that officers’ impressions in one area of a soldier’s experience too often colored their impressions in another.

That practice holds true today. If someone is attractive, he also usually is considered smart.  If a person appears enthusiastic, she often also is perceived as hard working. Friendly? Must be a good leader, too. We draw generalized conclusions based on a specific data point.

Priming the halo pump

First is foremost. People’s impressions are colored by the first piece of data they receive, and their subsequent impressions are shaped by that data. One of the earliest and most enduring studies of first impressions and the halo effect was completed by psychologist Solomon Asch, who asked people to evaluate the personalities of two individuals name Alan and Ben.

Alan: intelligent – industrious – impulsive – critical – stubborn – envious

Ben: envious – stubborn – critical – impulsive – industrious – intelligent

Obviously, the series of adjectives used to describe Alan is simply reversed for Ben. Here’s the catch: Although the same words appeared in a different sequence, test subjects always viewed Alan significantly more favorably than Ben. Even Alan’s negative characteristics were seen more positively, because of the positivity applied to the initial descriptors.

If someone you view positively possesses a stubbornness streak, you consider him a person who takes a principled stand. On the other hand, if you already have a negative impression of that person, the stubbornness can be seen as a sign of inflexibility and unwillingness to consider new ideas.

Creating your halo

The clear takeaway here is to attempt everything you can to make your entry point with a target positive in some way. As a general rule and in the earliest stages of a relationship with a target, you should dress well, be friendly and approachable, and be well read, well traveled and conversational. Be able to articulate your value and add important contributions to discussions. Make a favorable impression early, and you’ll dramatically improve the likelihood of hearing “yes” later.

Meeting an important target with whom you want to cultivate a positive and persuasive relationship? The savvy professional puts thought into not only how to make a positive impression, but also how to shape conversations. For example, consider the context of the meeting. Will it be a formalized business setting, such as a boardroom? Or will it be a more casual one-on-one exchange in an office? Conduct some research and explore similarities, interests and unusual aspects of the target’s background. Be prepared to speak intelligently about the issue at hand, ask intelligent questions and add a thought-provoking perspective.

Your halo will be showing soon.

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