Compelling People: A book review by Bob Morris

Compelling PeopleCompelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential
John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut
Hudson Street Press/Penguin Group (2013)

How and why, only when we cultivate both strength and warmth in our lives are we “worthy of admiration”

John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut are convinced that certain people possess both strength and warmth and this combination helps to explain why they are so highly admired and why they have so much influence. Others are attracted to them because they have the ability and determination to get things done but also because they are loving, caring, and empathic. “For our purposes, warmth is what people feel when they recognize they share interests and concerns. It is a sense of being on the same team. If strength is about whether someone can carry out their intentions, warmth is about whether you will be happy with the result. When people project warmth, we like them.” We care about them because they care about us.

Readers will appreciate Neffinger and Kohut’s use of primary and secondary sources that broaden and deepen the context, the frame-of-reference, for they key ideas. For example, research by psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson on how different cultural traditions around the world define character. They found that there are six moral virtues at the core of all of them, six forms of strength and the others of warmth: courage, temperance, wisdom, justice, humanity, and transcendence. (Page 23) Annotated “Notes” are provided on Pages 257-275. These are among the dozens of passages of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Neffinger and Kohut’s coverage.

o Strength vs. Warmth (Pages 10-18)
o Strength + Warmth (18-23)
o Quick and Dirty Judgment (27-28)
o Ethnicity (43-52)
o Body Type, and, Sexual Orientation and Identity (66-70)
o Nonverbal Communication (76-111)
o Mirroring, and, Style (120-135)
o Strength + Warmth, Word by Word (160-168)
o Making It Happen (168-181)
o Into the Wild (183-184)
o Leadership (206-209)
o Online (226-230)
o Unspoken Signals (236-238)

As I worked my way through the book, I began to formulate my own list of the attributes common among all the compelling people I have known. Not the most intelligent, nor the most physically attractive, charming, or generous. Rather, those who have a certain presence that can sometimes be initially intimidating but soon becomes endearing. Presumably many of those who read this book will have their own list. That said, strength and warmth (not one but both) only have meaning if (HUGE “if”) they are (a) authentic and (b) demonstrated by consistent behavior over time.

When concluding their book, Neffinger and Kohut observe, “The question of how to use strength and warmth in your own life begins with your intentions. Who do you want to be? What are you trying to achieve? Does the strength and warmth expressed through deeds align with what you project in your everyday social interactions? Do you use your strength in the service of others? Do you use your warmth to minimize painful conflicts when you can? Only you can answer for yourself, and there is nothing simple or straightforward about it. It takes courage (strength) to be rigorously honest about your intentions (warmth).”

I responded immediately to the first question, then hesitated and reflected on what I had learned throughout the narrative while correlating key points with my own circumstances. I re-read the five questions and began to jot down words and phrases in response to each. My conclusion is that there is compelling need for me to improve in all areas of my life. That is my goal and I am grateful to John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut for providing the information, insights, and counsel that I will need to achieve that objective.

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