Trust is at the core of every type of business transaction. When you’re inviting a prospect to a presentation, for example, he or she needs to feel that you’re trustworthy before accepting your invite. If you’re asking a customer to buy your product or service, gaining that buyer’s trust has to come before you even start to present your offering. And to get your team members onboard with your new business idea, they have to feel that you’ve got their back.
The interesting thing about trust is that you can’t make someone trust you; the act of trusting has to come from them. In a long-established relationship, you’ve been able to demonstrate your reliability and gain their trust over time. But you really can’t get a new acquaintance or relative stranger to trust you merely by saying “Trust me.” In fact, years of experience in sales have taught me that if you say that, it will immediately arouse the other person’s suspicions!
The best way to get others to trust you is by using body language. There are many elements of body language, including things like where you stand (closely vs. far away), how you move your hands and arms, how you stand (with arms open or arms crossed), and much more. Here, however, we’ll focus on three of the most basic and important elements of body language: your facial expression, your eye contact, and your handshake.
According to behaviorists, it takes anywhere from 5 seconds to 5 minutes to make a first impression. In other words, the process begins immediately—even before you speak. That’s because you’re already communicating using body language.
Here are some simple techniques for using body language to instill trust in business settings.
- Give them an open-lipped, heartfelt smile. By doing this, you are saying to the other person, “You can relax and feel safe with me.” Women tend to be better at this than men. If smiling broadly doesn’t come naturally to you, practice doing it in front of your mirror at home. Pretend you’ve just bumped into a famous celebrity you’ve long admired and have been dying to meet, or a great friend you adore but haven’t seen in years. For a few days, practice using this wide-open smile when you greet people. You’ll notice its effect on them immediately.
- Smile when offering encouragement. Here’s an example of how words ring hollow when not accompanied by the right facial expression. Telling someone they look great, but doing so with a serious face, can send all kinds of mixed messages, including “I’m jealous of you,” or “I’m just humoring you.” That’s why when you deliver praise, a compliment, congratulations, or encouragement, always accompany that positive message with a big smile. The smile externalizes your inner feelings of genuine warmth and affection for the person. It also makes your words more compelling and memorable.
- Let your face be a mirror of the speaker’s emotions. It’s very affirming for a speaker when the listener shows that he or she is closely following the conversation, and that the speaker’s words are having an impact. You can show this by nodding, which says, in effect, “Go on, I’m engaged,” or by making expressions that match the speaker’s emotions: frowning when the message is sad, squinting when the speaker is conveying irritation, shaking your head when the speaker is talking about a frustration, smiling when the message is upbeat, and tilting your head to the left to express empathy.
- Use a handshake to intensify the moment. Everyone knows that a strong handshake shows confidence, no matter what your gender. But handshakes are underused gestures and can add a great deal of impact to situations other than the initial greeting. For instance, you can end a conversation with a handshake too—and this physical punctuation mark makes your encounter more memorable. Also, shake hands when thanking someone, offering congratulations, and sealing a deal. By the way, saying your name with your handshake when meeting someone new makes them 75 percent more likely to remember your name.
- Lock eyes for an extra second when shaking hands. Before letting go of someone’s hand, always look the other person in the eyes for a full second, while smiling, before ending the handshake. This extra moment has a tremendous impact; it makes you seem charismatic. There’s also a great deal of evidence that simply by maintaining eye contact longer than usual, it increases the chances that someone will like you.
- Complete the “communication circuit” with your eyes. When another person is speaking, use body language while you listen. Do this by giving them face-to-face attention and making eye contact with the person speaking. This simple gesture completes the invisible connection, or circuit, between speaker and listener. Once you consciously try to use your eyes while listening, you’ll become aware of how often you usually look away! Eye contact is critical to great listening.
- Practice maintaining eye contact longer than usual. Normally, we maintain eye contact 30 to 60 percent of the time. When you look at the other person more than 60 percent of the time, it tells them that you’re interested and they matter. If this is difficult for you, lean forward slightly—this posture helps you maintain eye contact. If you need to give your eyes a break, try letting your gaze migrate slightly to the eyebrows or the nose area just between the eyes. To the other person, it will still seem as though you’re looking in their eyes.
When you practice and become natural at using all of these body language cues, you will give business associates, customers, and prospects reassurance and win their trust. They’ll view you as a genuine person who is sincerely interested in them. By mastering these simple gestures, you’ll be more influential in all your professional dealings.