Compelling People

The Hidden Qualities that Make Us Influential

by Matthew Kohut , John Neffinger

Number of pages: 304

Publisher: AMACOM

BBB Library: Communication

ISBN: 9781594631016

About the Authors

Matthew Kohut : Matthew Kohut is the managing partner of KNP Communications and co-author


John Neffinger : John Neffinger is a founding partner of KNP Communications, the president


Editorial Review

People who project both strength and warmth impress us as knowing what they are doing and having our best interests at heart, so we trust them and find them persuasive. They seem willing (warm) and able (strong) to look out for our interests, so we look to them for leadership and feel comfortable knowing they are in charge. Strength and warmth are the principal criteria on which all our social judgments hinge.

Book Reviews

“When people look at us, what are they seeing? Most of us don’t realize what signals we’re sending, or how, and on what, people are judging us. Neffinger and Kohut, communications strategists and presentation coaches who met writing speeches and editing articles for Harvard faculty, posit that initial character judgments are based on two traits: strength and warmth. As they write, “We live most fully when we cultivate both in our lives, when we balance a high degree of individual capability with an unflagging regard for the needs and interests of others.” Strength is the Ayn Randian show of will and power, and warmth is the Beatles-esque emanation of love and charm. The trick is in figuring out when to project which, and in what balance. The authors address the elements that affect how we make judgments, including gender, age, race, sexual orientation, posture and body language, style, leadership qualities, and workplace behavior. While their points are arguably true, the meandering, storytelling tone (it’s notable that there’s an epilogue, rather than a conclusion) doesn’t do their theory any favors. They’ve stretched an article’s worth of material over a full book.” Publishers Weekly

“When you meet someone, they’re sizing you up on two fundamental qualities: strength and warmth,” says Kohut, a founding partner of Washington, D.C.-based KNP Communications, which specializes in preparing public figures for speaking events. “Strength measures how much people can affect the world, and warmth shows how much people are concerned about our interests.” Business Insider

“Compelling People” focuses on the qualities that people look for when assessing one another. Their premise is that this process boils down to two distinct qualities, strength and warmth. Strength can be thought of in terms of competence and ability to accomplish various tasks, and it comes in many forms. Warmth is thought of in terms of relationships, trust, and empathy. The authors make the case that the chosen few who can broadcast both large amounts of strength and warmth are the people we admire most and want to follow.” Scott Drotar

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Wisdom to Share

The simple truth is that if you want to be admired, you have to be liked. And if you want to be liked, you have to like people.

Leading people demands satisfying two needs for the group: projecting enough strength to protect it from threats, and projecting enough warmth to recruit others who will help realize the group’s vision.

Emotional intelligence enables leaders to understand themselves and others in a way that allows them to move people to action. Nye notes that emotional intelligence has two components: mastery of oneself (control and strength) and outreach to others (warmth).

Communications can project both strength and warmth. The skill of being an effective communicator is an aspect of leader’s strength, while the ability to connect with stakeholders is an exercise in warmth.

Organizational skills allow leaders to understand, design, and implement systems that direct the resources needed to keep an organization running effectively. The net effect of having superb organizational skills is one of strength.

Vision is a leader’s way of describing the present and articulating an idea for how to arrive at a (presumably better) future state. The ability to create a compelling vision is a powerful way to establish a sense of shared interests that we equate with warmth.

Organizational skills allow leaders to understand, design, and implement systems that direct the resources needed to keep an organization running effectively. The net effect of having superb organizational skills is one of strength.

Machiavellian political skills are perhaps the most easily identifiable manifestation of strength. It is the ability to size up others for wheeling and dealing in what Nye calls “hard power” situations that require either incentives or coercion, carrots or sticks.

Contextual intelligence is the ability to read a situation and determine an appropriate approach to the leadership challenge that it poses. As Nye points out, this requires aptitude in dealing with organization culture (warmth), power politics (strength), the needs of people within an organization (warmth), and information flows (strength).

We often see that first sign of frailty not as an isolated issue, but as the onset of a downward trend, which means we tend to discount other signs that older people are still capable.