Not long ago in Abuja, I shared with Uncle Musa of Esteem Learning Centre what I heard a sheikh said about the Prophet. “When greeting,” the sheikh said, “he turned to you completely.”
Weeks later, when we were coming back from the mosque (I think, but can’t remember exactly), Uncle Musa declared that he had started implementing something I told him.
What is that?
“That thing you told me about the Prophet’s greeting. Now I turn and face people completely when greeting them,” he said.
Shortly after this conversation, I read a book, “How To Make People Like You In 90 Seconds Or Less” by Nicholas Boothman, which mentioned the same thing. It stated that if you want to be liked, build rapport and display openness, you should turn to people completely when greeting them. You should position your body so that your heart is facing them.
Although the intentions are different, the action is the same and the results are same. The Prophet did it to show regard to the people. As a messenger of God, he felt the people deserved his attention.
Boothman’s advice was to elicit liking. But it has same effect. And that’s where we begin with the science of greeting.
Imagine you’re meeting someone for the first time, what do you do? Many people like to dominate the situation, take up space and assert their authority. Lest we’re looked down upon, we try to out-alpha the people we meet. We are too eager to show our worth, to show confidence.
But the science of greeting has shown that the person we’re meeting has his own expectations from us. Two things actually. He wants to see if we are trustworthy. Can she trust you? She also expects competence from us.
“When we form a first impression of another person,” Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School told wired.com, “it’s not really a single impression. We’re really forming two. We’re judging how warm and trustworthy the person is, and that’s trying to answer the question, ‘What are this person’s intentions toward me?’ And we’re also asking ourselves, ‘How strong and competent is this person?’ That’s really about whether or not they’re capable of enacting their intentions. Research shows that these two trait dimensions account for 80 to 90 percent of an overall first impression, and that holds true across cultures.”
How do you show that you are trustworthy to the person you are meeting for the first time? Cuddy, asocial psychologist, said that we should yield the floor to the person we are meeting. And we can do that by asking the person questions to let her talk.
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) through his habits has already shown us how he treated people when he met them. First, you would meet him with a cheerful expression- we’ve discussed the benefits of that in the chapter on the “science of smiling.” Then he would shake your hand. Here’s what science says about a handshake:
“Shake hands,” Carol Kinsey Goman wrote for Forbes. “This is the quickest way to establish rapport. It’s also the most effective. Research shows it takes an average of three hours of continuous interaction to develop the same level of rapport that you can get with a single handshake.”
Other than this worldly benefit, the Prophet also said when two brothers shake hands, they would be forgiven before they disengage their hands. Here the focus again is on the hereafter. Yet, there are worldly benefits too. Therefore, the Muslim usually earns double utility, one here, one hereafter.
After that, the Prophet would give you the opportunity to talk. To tell him what you want from him.
Or the question you came to ask. Or the concerns you have to report to him.
Even though he was a messenger of God he wouldn’t attack you with preaching. “Repent or go to hell!” No. He listened.
That yielding of the floor to the person we meet was what Amy Cuddy talked about when she said:
”I think people make the mistake, especially in business settings, of thinking that everything is negotiation. They think, ‘I better get the floor first so that I can be in charge of what happens.’ The problem with this is that you don’t make the other person feel warmth toward you. Warmth is really about making the other person feel understood. They want to know that you understand them. And doing that is incredibly disarming.”
She continued, “… in general I really think people make the mistake of over-weighting the importance of expressing strength, at the expense of expressing warmth and trustworthiness. I think this is a mistake. How can you possibly be a good leader if the people who are supposed to be following you don’t feel that you understand them? How is it possible? No one is going to listen if they don’t trust you. Why would they? Why should they? Trust opens them up to what you have to say. It opens them up to your strength and confidence. Trust is the conduit through which ideas travel. Can you rule through fear? Of course you can. But not for long.”
How to establish warmth and trust is clear enough. But science said two things are expected of us: trust and competence.
So how do we demonstrate competence to the person we are meeting for the first time?
Other than smiling, I found scant answers from experts, so I did an original research to determine the answer. I share the results in the discussion of competence in chapter 11.
Today’s column is a selection from the book, ”The Social Science of Muhammad (SAW)”.