Leadership Communication Skills

Does Your Body Language Create Trust?


The latest corporate scandal, a politician’s illicit affair, or the professional athlete’s arrest—all give us a good deal of practice in identifying the body language of denial and deception:

  • Averting eye contact (except in some countries, where this is a sign of respect for one’s elders)
  • Touching the mouth or nose (lying)
  • A forced smile with no eye involvement (insincere)
  • Feet pointed away from the person asking questions (as if trying to escape the scene)
  • Arms folded (defensiveness)

But not nearly so much attention has been paid to the body language of trust.  Salespeople, marketing professionals, consultants, speakers, physicians, counselors, coaches, and attorneys particularly stand to benefit as they learn to use the language of trust naturally—without thinking.  In fact, their livelihood depends on it.

It helps, of course, when a person sincerely likes and trusts another person or group.  Body language more naturally reflects what a person feels.  But some cultures and some people show less emotion in general.  For example, the Japanese.  You remember the stoic faces of the suffering Japanese as they stood in food and clothing lines, waiting for emergency supplies after the Tsunami devastated their country last year.

To make sure your body language reflects trust or to increase trust with clients and coworkers, keep these tips in mind:

  • Smile naturally—with your eyes.  If you want to know your natural smile, think of a funny story or someone you love. Then take a selfie or ask someone to snap a photo of you when you smile or laugh. You’ll notice tiny wrinkles around the eyes. Then do the prom-queen or prom-king fake smile and snap the smile.  No eye movement.  Sincerity—and insincerity––shows.  Understand that your client or coworker can tell the difference as well.
  • Keep your head straight.  The position of your head says a great deal. An upward-tilted chin says you’re arrogant, cocky.  A dipped chin may communicate fear or disapproval.  Leaning your head to the side as you talk or listen says you’re needing their approval—or flirting.   
  • Maintain direct eye contact; stop playing with your gadgets.  Don’t stare, of course. But look at the other person as they talk to you—not at your phone, your notes, over their shoulder, or around the room.  This one habit is the single most important rapport builder of all—and nowadays, the most frequently broken.  Playing with your electronic devices while someone is trying to talk to you has become a huge irritation and a key reason for creating sudden distance in a relationship.  If you need to check a message or look up data, excuse yourself from the conversation or tell the other person what you’re doing if it pertains to the conversation at hand.
  • Sit or stand in a relaxed, comfortable, but attentive posture.  When standing, swing your arms backward from the shoulder one at a time as if doing a swimming backstroke. See how your posture improves? Now relax that posture slightly, but keep your shoulders back.  You’ll look comfortable, but alert and ready to pay attention.  And that’s exactly what the other person wants you to do.
  • Use open gestures above the waist as you speak.  If your gestures are below the waist, people can’t see them as well.  Gestures waist-high and above draw attention to the face and eyes, “the windows of the soul,” according to the poets Marcel Proust and William Shakespeare.

Demonstrate trust to gain trust. It’s a winning posture—pun intended.

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