Someone once confronted me with the knowing assertion that ‘life is not a popularity contest’. And, of course, this is true, it isn’t. But, equally, as I pointed out at the time, success in life cannot be defined by Machiavelli’s conclusion that “it is much safer to be feared than loved”.

The experts in behavioural science, as featured in the July-August 2013 Harvard Business Review (HBR), are now providing evidence that the reliably universal dimensions of social judgment are both strength/competence (so Niccolo was partly right) and warmth. Interestingly, though, the indications are that warmth judgments are primary.

In our ancestral encounters with strangers we first needed to determine their intentions, then their ability to act on those intentions. The primacy of warmth is fitting because another person’s intent for good or ill is more important to survival than whether he or she can actually act on those intentions.

Taking this on a little, beginning with warmth can be the best way to establish trust and, as HBR concludes, for leaders “warmth is the conduit of influence”.

The owners of business relationships can sometimes overlook the personal aspects of a fully functioning partnership. In an age of accountability, the focus can rest primarily with understanding the business needs and delivering against them at a profit.

Rounded relationship behaviour, however, is the other major driver of a successful enterprise. It is important to know your clients and customers personally as well as professionally and to recognise, for example, the power of small acts of kindness in the mix.

Furthermore, the more enlightened acquirers of client based businesses are now including relationship diligence as part of due diligence and recognising this as perhaps the only reliable predictor of future (as opposed to past) performance.

In our complex, digitally enabled world, the classic verities of relationships have never been more important, bringing clarity and cut through to the bewildering range of choices we need to make on a daily basis. And when we seek to establish these relationships we look for warmth and competence, beginning with warmth.