Body Language 96 Lasting Relationships

October 13, 2020

For the final few articles in this series on body language, I am highlighting some of the excellent content in a program entitled “Advanced Body Language” by Bill Acheson of the University of Pittsburgh.

In this article, I will summarize his research on Forming Lasting Relationships quickly. I dealt with this topic from my own observations in an earlier article entitled “Planting a Seed of Trust in the First 10 Seconds.”  Bill’s take on the subject parallels my remarks and goes deeper in some areas.

 

First of all, Bill says that we form a first impression of another person extremely fast, and it is based on three factors that we judge very quickly: 1) Trustworthiness, 2) Competence, and 3) Likability.

Trustworthiness

The first observation is that you cannot project trustworthiness verbally. It must be done with some form of action or gesture where you are demonstrating that you will do exactly what you say. You will not spin the truth and will be transparent with information.

That is kind of a difficult thing to do when first meeting an individual, so let me share an example from my own background.  I once met a person who said he was interested in the topic of trust.

I was a speaker at a conference, and this individual approached me. I told him that I had an article I would send to him that had great content to answer one of his questions. I asked him for his card, and he saw me write down a message to myself on the back to send him that particular article.

This little gesture let him know he could count on me to follow through, so I suspect my trustworthiness level likely went up in his mind.

Competence

Here, Bill quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “What you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” Another way to say that is, “Actions speak louder than words.”

He makes the observation that men have the ability to project personal power in a business setting with greater accuracy than women. He describes several male behaviors that signal personal power.  For example, if a man sits with noticeably relaxed muscle tone, it demonstrates absence of fear. Lack of fear is coupled with trust, so it is a gesture that connotes power and security.

A backward body lean is another indication of being relaxed, which translates into a gesture associated with personal power. This is also true for body asymmetry with one hand up and the other hand down.

Another example is expansiveness; he takes up a lot of room.  He spreads things out on the table in front of himself or sits in a meeting with his arm on an adjacent chair.

A third give away is sitting with legs crossed in what is known as the “aristocratic leg cross” with one leg on top of the other rather than an ankle to the knee, which is how the majority of men sit. Bill cites that for men over the age of 45, only 12% of them will sit with one leg atop the other. Bill says it is the single most accurate predictor of high social status and high net worth.

For women to project personal power, Bill makes three observations. The first is that hair and power are inversely proportional. As women move into positions of higher power, they tend to cut their hair shorter and closer to the head.

A second observation is that women, when projecting personal power, often do what is called a “reverse steeple” with their hands.  Men will often steeple with finger tips together pointing upward and palms apart. The female power position is with fingers together pointing downward and palms apart.

He says the dichotomy between attractiveness and power means that to increase one, you tend to reduce the other; “It’s a zero-sum game.” The implication here is that for a woman to project personal power she will often sacrifice some femininity.

Likability

Here, the issue revolves around communication style.  Bill notes that in study after study the highest rated communicator says the fewest number of words.  He makes a very strong statement that “You are now, and you will continue to be paid based on your ability to LISTEN.”

He suggests that the most important behavior for a listener is silence.  It is so obvious that we tend to forget.

He said that in order to generate instant rapport with an individual you are just meeting, just walk up and give a four-word command: “Tell me about yourself.” Then shut up and listen.

Bill also points out that when meeting another person, you want to maintain roughly 70-80% eye contact.  Less than 70% eye contact and the other person will not trust you. He stresses that it important to break eye contact at least once a minute.  To stare at another person for more than a minute, it is creepy and actually can destroy trust.

These points are quite similar to the ones I have anecdotally observed myself, but Bill has done enough research to back up the theory with data.

Not all of the points mentioned here apply in all situations. As with all body language, there is room for individual differences, and the magnitude of the gestures will depend on the specific situation.

 

 

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”

 


Trust Seeds

April 22, 2012

We are all aware that interpersonal trust is precious. Trust is fragile; it is difficult to build, and easy to destroy. Most people believe it takes a very long time to build up trust with another person. There is an alternate view; if certain conditions are present when people first meet, a “seed” of trust is created upon which further trust will grow if both people continue to nurture it.

In his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell describes the “Thin Slices” we humans use to size up other people within seconds of meeting them. We absorb an enormous amount of data instantly in the body language and the first words uttered by a new acquaintance.

I can recall meeting two influential men last year within seconds of each other. The first one gave me a solid handshake and a smile. He made great eye contact and asked me a question about my family. The second individual gave me a half-limp handshake while his eyes were scanning the room to see who else was there. He did smile, but it was forced and phony. Since that time, I have effortlessly developed a relationship of high trust with the first individual, and I have felt uncomfortable to be in the same room as the second one. The relationship with the first man took several months to develop, but the seed was planted in the first 5 seconds. With the second man, there was nothing for trust to grow on, so a relationship never kindled.

There are numerous things people instantly assess about us. Here are five conditions that allow you to plant a seed on which trust can grow.

Competence – People must be convinced that you know what you are doing to view you as being trustworthy. If they sense that you have the ability from a knowledge and skill set to deliver on your statements, then you pass the competence test. If they have doubts that you can deliver, then they will remain skeptical until there is enough time to test you.

Integrity – Do you have the character to do what is right? People need to feel that you are not duplicitous and that you will stand up for what you believe is right. It does not mean that you always need to agree with others on every point, but people need to see you as a person of high moral and ethical fiber before they are going to trust you.

Reliability – People need to be convinced that you will do what you say. This characteristic normally takes people a long time to test, but it actually can happen quickly. People can discern your reliability through the way you phrase intentions and even the body language you use to chat with them. The ability to follow through with intended actions or at least get back to the other person if conditions change is easy to spot, just as it is easy to observe a blowhard who says nice things but has no intention to actually do them.

Attitude – To gain trust, you need to project a positive attitude when another person is meeting you and ensure that it comes from the heart. Depending on the contextual background of the meeting, a smile is the usual way to show a positive attitude toward another person. Caveat: putting on a false smile is the kiss of death, because it pegs you as someone who cannot be trusted at all. In a different context, a look of concern or sympathy might be a more appropriate way to show a positive attitude toward the other person. Your attitude and demeanor must be heartfelt and congruent with the situation.

Care – It is vital to project that you really do care about the other person. People might say it takes years to know if someone else really does care about you. In reality, care can be displayed in hundreds of small gestures, just as selfishness can be easily spotted. Giving deference to the feelings of others is an important component of Emotional Intelligence. The interesting observation about this is that the people who have low Emotional Intelligence have the biggest blindspots, according to Daniel Goleman. Translated, if you come across as a phony in terms of really caring about other people, you will not have the ability to detect this in yourself, but others will see it instantly.

On the back of my business card, I have a picture of a pile of various seeds. The words say:

Seeds for Growing Leaders
Plant in an environment of trust,
Sprinkle daily with humility,
Weed out negativity,
Place in the light of truth,
Be patient,
Enjoy the fruits of great leadership.

It does take a long time of consistent performance for a very strong bond of trust to build, but the first seeds of trust can be established quickly upon meeting someone. Make sure when you meet a new person that you genuinely project the five conditions above, and you will be well on your way to a trusting relationship.


Initial Trust is Based on a Handful of C’s

October 24, 2010

It has been said that trust takes years to kindle. You cannot trust another individual until he or she has had the opportunity to interface with you in a number of circumstances over an extended period of time. I disagree with this analysis. I think trust can kindle very quickly between two individuals. There is even a name for this, “swift trust,” coined by Debra Meyerson. Beyond the initial flame of trust, the fire grows or shrinks based on the interactions (I call them transactions) that occur between the individuals over time.

Trust can be kindled in only a few minutes time, if the proper conditions are present. Trust rests on the relationship between two individuals. If I am going to trust you, I need to be personally convinced that you fulfill 5 conditions that all begin with the letter C. These items form the basis for trust to start, and they can be conveyed from one person to another in short order. The first two conditions I borrowed from Stephen M.R. Covey’s bestselling book, The Speed of Trust. The rest of the list is from my personal experience and background. Here are the 5 C’s on which initial trust is built:

Competence – I must be convinced that you know what you are doing to view you as credible. If I sense that you have the ability from a knowledge and skill set to deliver on your statements, then you pass the competence test. If I have doubts that you can deliver, then I will remain skeptical until I have an extended time period to test you.

Character – Do you have the integrity to do what is right? I need to feel that you are not duplicitous and that you will stand up for what you believe is right. It does not mean that we always need to agree on every point, but I need to see you as a person of high moral and ethical fiber before I am going to give you my trust.

Consistency – I need to be convinced that you will do what you say. This characteristic normally takes people a long time to test, but it doesn’t need to take months for someone to convince me that he or she is consistent. I can discern the value of consistency through the way a person phrases intentions and even the body language he or she uses to chat with me. The ability to follow through with intended actions or at least get back to the other person if conditions change is easy to spot, just as it is easy to observe a blowhard who says nice things but has little fortitude to actually do them.

Congeniality – I am not going to trust someone who comes across as morose or stern. To gain my trust, I need to see a smile and know that it comes from the heart. One bit of body language to build trust when shaking hands is to show your teeth in a smile. According to Bill Acheson in his program on “Advanced Body Language,” showing teeth at one time meant giving the other person the ability to quickly judge a person’s social status. That is not usually the case today, but a genuine cordial facial expression when meeting a person for the first time is a prerequisite for trust to kindle. Putting on a false smile is the kiss of death, because it pegs you as someone who cannot be trusted at all.

Care – The final “C” in this handful is to project that you really do care about me. Again, people might say it takes years to know if someone else really does care about me. I disagree. Care can be displayed in hundreds of subconscious ways, just as selfishness can be worn like a suit of armor. Giving deference to the feelings of others is an important component of Emotional Intelligence. The interesting observation about this is that the people who have low Emotional Intelligence have the biggest blindspots, according to Daniel Goleman. Translated, if I come across as a phony in terms of really caring about other people, I will have little ability to detect this in myself, but others will see it instantly.

You cannot fake the 5 C’s, but if your words, actions, tone, and body language are all consistent to demonstrate the 5 C’s with respect to someone you have just met, trust (at least at a starting level) can be kindled in a matter of a few minutes. It is then up to you to remain consistent and keep building on that base.