Article by Melissa Balmain
People tend to overestimate their ability to read others' faces or bodies for trustworthiness, psychologists say. Practiced liars can be experts at genuine-seeming eye contact and gestures.
As unreliable as body language is, it can still be a powerful factor in trust. We're more prone to like or help people who subtly mimic our nonverbal behavior, psychological studies suggest – and the mimics themselves seem to grow more trusting in the process.
Such imitation is just one way to build trust without words, say Bill Acheson, a nonverbal-communication consultant in Pittsburgh, and Bob Whipple, a leadership coach in Hilton, New York. Though the following methods aren't scientifically proven to spark trust, Acheson and Whipple say they've seen them work time and again.
When Shaking Hands:
Use just one hand and keep it vertical. A two-handed shake can come across as presumptuous; a palm-down grip as an attempt to dominate, Whipple and Acheson say. Make good "web-to-web contact" and hold the other person's hand firmly but not bone-crushingly. Don't stuff your other hand in a pocket. Smile "from the heart." And, yes, make eye contact, especially as the handshake begins.
When Speaking or Listening:
Maintain eye contact most of the time – but not all of the time, which can appear creepily deliberate. Don't fidget.
When Standing or Sitting:
If you're talking with a man, stand next to him with your body angled slightly toward his or choose a chair that's not right across from him. This will strike him as less confrontational than speaking face to face. Stand or sit directly opposite a woman; to her, an approach from the side might feel like an invasion of space.
Melissa Balmain is a journalist, humorist, and editor whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, McSweeney's, and elsewhere. The author of Walking in on People, an award-winning poetry collection, she teaches writing at the University of Rochester. For more of her work, please visit MelissaBalmain.com.