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How to Project Warmth and Competence

How to Project Warmth and Competence

In a previous article, How Warmth and Competence Affect Customer Perceptions, we discussed how warmth and competence play a major role in how people perceive other people and businesses. Because of this, a brand (or person) must project warmth and competence to be seen as trustworthy.

In financial services, warmth and competence are especially important because a person’s financial situation is a sensitive subject. They need to be able to trust their financial advisor to manage their finances responsibly. 

Once people learn about the importance of these two characteristics they often ask “How can I project my warmth and competence to clients?” The question has no definitive answer due to a lack of focused research on how to project warmth and competence in a business setting. Luckily nonverbal behaviors (NVB), a more common research subject, may provide insights on the topic.

Nonverbal Behaviors Convey Warmth and Competence

Nonverbal behaviors include any actions other than the words used in verbal communication. It’s not just body posture and smiling. NVBs include the tone of your voice, whether you make eye contact and literally any other action you take to communicate.

This definition is very broad and includes every aspect of communication that cannot be conveyed in a transcript. The listed nonverbal behaviors all play a role in how you are perceived by others. Research shows, only 5% of communication is expressed through the spoken word, 45% by the tone, inflection, and other elements of voice, and the other 50% by body language, movements, eye contact, etc. Nonverbal behaviors constantly, subtly project your characteristics throughout a variety of social interactions, with the two most obvious being body language and overt behaviors.

It’s important to be aware of what exactly your nonverbal behaviors project to others.

Body Language

Body language conveys a lot of information about an individual. For example, slouching or leaning back in a chair during a meeting with clients can project a lack of confidence or laziness. That may undermine the message you are trying to sell. In order to be seen as competent, people must see you as confident.

Body language needs to be controlled in every social interaction to stay “on message.” To project warmth, one should be sitting up straight, making eye contact, nodding, smiling and using open gestures when interacting with others. These actions will project warmth to clients, indicating to them that they have your full attention.


How you speak with customers will also affect how warm you are perceived. Whether the conversation takes place in person, over the phone or via Skype, the customer will notice and (subconsciously) react to your tone of voice. To project warmth, your tone needs to be consistent. Dramatic shifts in your tone of voice can put off customers for a number of reasons. Your goal should be to sound upbeat, confident, under control and very clear in all your communications.

Using an inconsistent tone of voice can undo any gains in warmth made by other NVB’s.

Projecting competence is more difficult than projecting warmth, especially if you are trying to project competence in a specific skill, such as financial planning. Some level of competence can be inferred from NVB’s. However, to best project competence, you will need to utilize overt behaviors.

Overt Behaviors

The overt behavior of a person can be generalized to describe each and every action a person takes. For example, walking is an overt behavior. Making a phone call is an overt behavior. Determining these types of behaviors is very simple.

While non-verbal behaviors subtlety display warmth and competence, overt behaviors directly project your level of competence to your audience.

It doesn’t matter that you had good posture in your meeting if you completely mishandled someone’s finances afterward. Do what you say, say what you do.

Other overt behaviors you can employ to project competence include:

  • Taking notes to show your attention to detail
  • Speaking confidently
  • Showing respect for your clients time

Projecting warmth and competence is, without a doubt, a challenging task for even the most socially adept individuals. You need to be careful to monitor how you behave if you wish to project competence throughout your financial services organization.


Even if you’ve done well to project your warmth and competence, one mistake could harm a person’s perception forever. If even one time you seemed disinterested in them, didn’t project warmth or did something wrong will affect the way people see you. It’s important to be vigilant and focused when dealing with clients. Treat every meeting like it’s the most important one of your career.

Something to consider when trying to project warmth and competence is that actions can only change your perception to a certain extent. People will judge you based on stereotypes about your ingroup, how you look, and a variety of subtle factors that you have no control over. While projecting warmth and competence is important, especially for financial professionals (people need to be able to trust you with their assets), there is only so much any one person can do.

Financial Services Takeaways

Financial services professionals need to project both warmth and competence when interacting with clients (or prospects). This is needed in order to reassure them that their wealth is in good hands. Finances are a very sensitive subject for many people. Those people need to be constantly reassured that they can trust their financial service professional. To nurture and grow that trust, you need to be both warm and competent.

Financial agents should consider being mindful of their body language and overt behavior, especially in front of clients. As we have learned from The Human Brand, a book about the personification of marketing, how others perceive you is a huge factor in determining the success of your business.

Do you believe projecting warmth and competence to clients is important for financial service professionals? Does the average wealth management professional or financial advisor project warmth that can generate trust? Is that what separates good financial agents from great financial agents? Let us know on Twitter @VeridayHQ and follow us on Linkedin here.