Body Language 97 Twelve Layers

October 20, 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 Thinking on how we pick up twelve layers of information when we interface with another person. Most of the time the signals are processed by us unconsciously, but that does not mean they don’t matter to us.

The body language is most important when we are meeting someone for the first time. According to Bill, what we can observe in the other person is ten times more important than what we say.

The 12 layers are the management of:
1. Time
2. Space
3. Appearance
4. Posture
5. Gesture
6. Voice
7. Eye Contact
8. Facial Expression
9. Breathing
10. Touch
11. Smell
12. Congruence

Actually, in his recording he left off the 12th item, so I added the concept of congruence, because when one part of body language is out of step with the others, it sends a warning signal that something is wrong here, even if we cannot put our finger on it consciously.

When we see conflicting signals, the caution flag goes up in our mind, and we have a much more difficult time establishing a relationship of trust. That caution flag, even if it is subconscious means it will take substantially longer to trust the other person than if all signals were consistent.

According to Malcolm Gladwell in the book “Blink,” human beings have a remarkable ability to size each other up in a heartbeat. He estimates that we form a first impression of another person within the first three seconds. He calls the phenomenon “thin slices” after the analogy that if you slice something, like a cucumber, thin enough, you can actually see through it.

Near the start of his program, Bill shares some data he took when working with a group of 600 business woman. His question was, “In a business setting, how do you know when a man cheats on his wife?” The top 7 responses were all body language.

In the video Bill shares the top two responses. The first was if a man wears too much cologne or aftershave. The second giveaway, mentioned by 70% of the women, is if the man is wearing a pinky ring. What male would have guessed those two responses?

Another fascinating statistic has to do with trust. The research shows that 97% of the women he polled said they do not trust a man who wears more jewelry than they do. I suppose that one seems pretty obvious.

In his program, he makes several general observations comparing men and women. Bill is always careful to point out that these observations do not hold in every case, but there is enough of a trend to make them a valuable tool.

For example, he has measured that of out of all the emotions, there is only one emotion that men project with far greater accuracy than women. That emotion is guilt. He suggests that if women experience guilt, they usually do it to themselves.

I hope you have enjoyed these few articles summarizing the entertaining and sometimes startling research of Bill Acheson. I hope that you are interested enough to pick up a copy of his program. You will find it fun, entertaining, and insightful.



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



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.”

 


Body Language 95 Liars

October 1, 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 liars. First of all, Bill separates out two categories of liars: incompetent liars and competent liars. He makes some interesting distinctions.

We all wear a kind of “lie detector” every day. It exists of the way we configure our bodies. Once you know the secrets, you will be able to spot someone who is being untruthful rather easily.

His first observation is that we cannot convey trustworthiness verbally. To convince others that we are trustworthy it must come from what we do and our tone of voice. Professional interrogators listen for heightened vocal pitch as better than 90% accurate indicator of deception. Another sign is if a person touches the side of his nose when answering a question.

Incompetent Liars

Bill’s first point is that it takes a lot more mental energy to lie than to tell the truth. His research shows that when you tell the truth you actually use six centers of the brain. When you lie, you activate 14 centers of the brain, and there is so much mental activity going on that there is an automatic secretion of Adrenalin. This causes your body to move. Here are some things to give away an incompetent liar:

• Low level of eye contact – under 30%
• Looking down and shifting glance from side to side
• Dilation of the pupils
• Rapid eye flutter
•  Dry mouth – Decreased saliva leading to lip licking
• Lip biting
• Swallowing hard
• Wringing of hands
• Body moving side to side
• Face turning red or white
• May stutter or stammer

Competent liars

Rather than too little eye contact, with a competent liar you are likely to see too much. The person is actually staring at you with as much as 90% eye contact. Rather than stuttering, the competent liar sounds slick and contrived, like he has rehearsed the script to memory. Here are some of the things to look for with a competent liar:

• Significantly reduced hand gestures
• Violation of your personal space – like touching or putting an arm around you
• Acting more familiar with you than he has the right to be based on how well he knows you
• Holds one hand in the other to reduce his movements
• May put hands behind his back or in his pockets

Bill points out that we have a gut reaction to a stimulus before we deal with the stimulus logically in our brain. So, a first reaction to another person happens very quickly, perhaps in less than a second, but that gut reaction is taking in numerous signals that we process instinctively.

In the book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell calls these reactions “thin slices.” We make conclusions very quickly based on what we observe, and we protect ourselves instinctively.

Look for these behaviors when you are talking with another person. You may be able to pick out when the person is telling you the truth versus a lie by observing if there is a cluster of the above behaviors.


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



Body Language 91 Ready to Make a Deal?

August 24, 2020

Body Language is relevant in all aspects of our life. The topic is particularly useful in the field of sales. Highly skilled sales professionals are trained to look for many different body language shifts that indicate the prospect has crossed the mental chasm from skeptical to sold.

This article highlights a few of the signs you can observe in this dynamic.

Deep Breath

If a person has been breathing shallow slow breaths and all of a sudden takes in a huge breath and lets it out slowly, that signals a change in mental attitude. It is likely that the person is expressing the lowering of overall tension.

The technique is known as a cleansing breath because the impact is to acknowledge the tension going out of the body.

Feet to Floor

If the buyer is sitting with crossed legs suddenly uncrosses his or her legs and puts both feet on the floor, it is usually a sign the person is ready to sign on the dotted line.

Unbutton Jacket

If a man in a business suit that has been buttoned suddenly unbuttons it and pushes it out to the sides, thus exposing the solar plexus, it is a very good sign. You are scoring points.

Open Palms

If a person who has been sitting at a table or desk with closed fists and knuckles on the surface, turns hands over with palms upward, it shows a transition from being resistant to being open.

Dilated Pupils

If you observe the pupils of the person are larger than normal, you have an indication of anticipation that is generally a good indication of a deal. Note, the other person has no way of observing his or her own pupils, so you have a significant advantage by checking for that clue.

Increased Blinking Rate

This signal can go either way, so be careful. If the other person is irritated by the negotiation, the result may be an increase in blinking rate.

However, an increase in blinking rate could also signal anticipation of closing the deal. If you observe increased blinking rate, check for other signs to understand which direction is operational.

Inward Lean

If a person who has been sitting back in the chair suddenly leans in, that is a signal that the person is ready to close the deal.

Increased Eye Contact

If a person who has had difficulty maintaining good eye contact, all of a sudden increases eye contact to the level of 60% to 70%, you have likely made the sale.

The Opposite Signal

If a person has his or her notebook open on the table in front of him, then suddenly closes his book and folds his hands on top of it, that gesture means no sale is likely today. The person has just shut down the negotiation for this session.

There are many other body language gestures that can help you identify when a person is ready to make a deal. Many of these have to do with facial expressions, such as skeptical versus a satisfied smile. Stay alert when negotiating for another person over anything, from which food to order to buying a house. Knowing these signals will help you come out with a better result.

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



Body Language 78 Faking Emotions

June 7, 2020

Sometimes people will try to fake or disguise their emotions. I believe the hit rate for doing that successfully is pretty low. There are an infinite number of ways we send signals to other people without uttering any words. We lump it all under the term “Body Language.”

We may think that we can fool others into thinking we are happy when we are actually experiencing another strong emotion. When we do that, we send mixed signals that lower trust and tend to confuse people.

The number or permutations when trying to disguise emotions is so large, we cannot begin to explore a substantial portion in a brief article. I will just mention a few examples here to illustrate my point.

Human beings have a remarkable ability to sniff out conflicting signals. They may not be able to decode what the true emotion is, but they can sense when something is not genuine.

In the attached photo, the woman is faking a smile, but the eyebrows tell us that she is not really happy.  Also the head tilt is a mixed signal inconsistent with happiness.  Something is wrong here, and we need to investigate what it is.

When we meet someone for the first time, there are many layers of information being conveyed, according to body language expert Bill Acheson of the University of Pittsburgh. The layers are time, space, appearance, posture, gesture, facial expression, eye contact, breathing, touch, and smell. Bill says, “There are twelve layers of information and we pick up every single detail at some subconscious level.”

When we try to manipulate one factor by focusing energy on a masking gesture, we are still sending out a huge amount of data on the other factors that will look inconsistent.

I suspect you have had the experience of meeting someone where you were thinking, “I don’t trust this individual. I am not sure why, but something is wrong here.” For example, I once met a CEO who made a specific effort to avoid all eye contact while we were shaking hands.  That was back in the day when shaking hands was acceptable. It was creepy.

On the other extreme, you have met people in your life that came across as truly authentic in every detail. You have a tendency to naturally bond with those people instantly because you sensed that you could trust them.

I had an experience of going to a meeting where I was very angry at one of the participants. I won’t go into the details of why I was livid, but I tried to hide the fact with a pleasant air and small talk. I suspect that my attempt to hide the truth came across as phony because she had a look of high discomfort throughout the meeting. I was at fault for not being authentic.

The purpose of this article is to remind us all that our true emotions are on display at all times. Try to hide them at your peril. What you are actually doing is lowering the possibility of a trusting relationship.


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



Body Language 84 Zoom Boom 1 Eye Contact

May 11, 2020

This is the first of four short articles highlighting the differences from in-person body language and body language when using a virtual platform.

Clearly, having the ability to see the faces of individuals, particularly in a group setting, is far superior to having a conference call where people cannot see each other.

However, it is wrong to suggest that the virtual experience is just as good as actually being in the same room as the other people. It is not.

This series of short articles will highlight areas where we need to recognize the limitations, even while we enjoy the benefits of the various platforms for virtual meetings.

The first area is eye contact. The most critical connection between people when interfacing in person is eye contact. When you look at another person’s eyes, you can detect how sincere and authentic the person is.

We read the eyes of other people all the time without even being conscious of the depth of information contained in them. We may have a first meeting with an individual and come away with a cautionary feeling about him by the way he made eye contact.

In “The Gambler,” Kenny Rogers sings, “He said, Son, I’ve made a life out of readn’ people’s faces, knowin’ what the cards were by the way they held their eyes.”

Most people in organizations do not take it to that extreme, but we do take away a huge amount of data by watching other people’s eyes.

In a virtual setting, it is often difficult to even see the other person’s eyes. First of all, if the person is wearing glasses, the glare from the reflection of the screen or ambient light at least partially blocks a clear view of the eyes.

Second, people rarely look directly into the camera when working in a virtual meeting. They are focusing their attention on the pictures of the other people or data displayed on screen. Depending on where the camera is placed, that may cause the person to rarely show his eyes.

Direct eye contact between any two people in a virtual meeting is extremely rare.

Third, when there are many people in the meeting, each image is so small that it is hard to see the expression in the eyes. You can gather some information, but it is not nearly what would be seen if you were meeting in person.

What to do

If the information in the eyes is less than ideal, you need to substitute other factors to understand what is going on with the other person. Tone of voice will let you know if the person is feeling happy, angry, sarcastic, confused, or several other emotions.

In addition, pay attention to what the other person is saying. Is she being negative, grumpy, and hostile, or is she buoyant, happy, and flexible?

Body position can give you a clue to the attitude. Is the person sitting up straight or slouched over holding her head up with the palm of her hand?

Facial expression is another tip off to what is going on with the person. Even though the eye contact may not be ideal, you still have the ability to read what is going on. Look for clues in the configuration of the mouth and the eyebrows.

You can ask open-ended questions that call for the person to reveal how she is feeling at the moment.

I will explore other differences or compromises in future articles.


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


Leadership Barometer 44 Rapport

March 29, 2020

 

We all know that the first few seconds when meeting a new person or client are critical to the relationship.

Malcolm Gladwell referred to the “thin slices” of meaning we interpret subconsciously when meeting someone new. His contention is that a relationship is basically established after just a few seconds, so it is important to know what to do and what to avoid doing in this critical period.

While we know the vital importance of body language and tone of voice, few of us have received any formal training on what things to do and to avoid to maximize the potential for good rapport and trust.

The overarching objective is to let your natural personality and essence shine through as well as be sincerely interested in learning the qualities of the other person. This means making sure all the signals you send are congruent with your true nature and being alert for the full range of signals being sent by the other person.

While there are entire books on this topic, I wanted to share six things to do and six things to avoid from my own experience and background.
Note these items are somewhat mechanical in nature. They are not intended to replace the good judgment in any instance but are offered as tips that can help in most cases.

Things to do:

1. Be yourself

Trying to force yourself into a mold that is not your natural state will not translate well. Regardless of your effort, you will unwittingly send ambiguous signals that will subconsciously be perceived as you trying too hard to establish rapport.

2. Shake hands (assuming you are not in the middle of a pandemic).

In most cultures, the hand shake is the touch ritual that conveys major content about both individuals.
Each person is sending and receiving signals on several different levels in the few moments it takes to shake hands.

Learn how to do it right, and do it with the right attitude. The handshake should project what is in your heart.

Note, there are many myths about handshakes. For example, a “firm” handshake has historically been thought to send a signal of competence and power.
If the firmness is amplified to a bone-crushing clamp, it actually sends a signal that the crusher is insecure, because why else would someone crush a hand unless he thought it was necessary to appear powerful.

Remember this simple rule of thumb, if the person can feel the handshake after it is over, you have gone too far.

3. Make good eye contact

We communicate at many levels with our eyes. It is important to really see the other person in a natural and pleasing way.
Here is a tip about eye contact while shaking hands. Try to see through the eyes into the soul of the person you are meeting. Inside the other person’s head is a wonderland of possibilities, and the window to that information is first through the eyes.

4. Smile

Make sure it is appropriate to smile (although sometimes a somber expression is more appropriate – like at a funeral). The caveat here is that the smile must be genuine, not phony.

Learn to smile from the eyes by picturing an oval from your eyebrows to your lips. Show your teeth, if they are in good shape. This really helps the warmth of a smile.

Be sure to maintain eye contact while you are smiling. The peripheral vision of the other person will allow him or her to appreciate the smile. Consider the duration of the smile, because too short or too long of a smile can send mixed signals.

5. Give a genuine greeting

Most people say “how are you” or “nice to meet you.” Those greetings are not bad, but they do pass over an opportunity to show real enthusiasm for meeting the other person. Reason: these greetings are perfunctory and overused.

They accomplish the greeting mechanically, but they do not establish a high emotional engagement.

You might try a variant like “I am excited to meet you” or “how wonderful to meet you.” Be careful to not get sappy: see caveat number five in the second list below.

6. Ask the other person a question

The typical and easiest thing to do is say “tell me about yourself,” but you only would use that if there was adequate time for the individual to take you from grade school to the rest home.

A better approach is to consider the environment around the person. There will be a clue as to what the other person might be experiencing at that moment. If you link in to the emotion with a question that draws out the other person, you have established dialog that is constructive.

For example, if you meet a person in a hotel lobby who is dragging two suitcases with his left hand, you might say while shaking the right hand, “have you been traveling all day?” or “can I help you with one of your bags?”

Doing these six things will set you up for a good first impression provided they are consistent with the situation and your persona, but there are extensions of these same six things that should be avoided or you may blow the opportunity.


Things to avoid:

1. Do not work too hard

Other people will instantly recognize at a gut level if you are putting on an act to impress them. If your natural tendency is to be a slap happy kind of salesman when meeting people, try to turn down the volume on that part while maintaining a cheerful nature.

2. One handed shakes only

The two-handed shake, known as the “politician’s handshake,” is too invasive for a first meeting. It will cause the other person to emotionally retreat as a defense mechanism.

It gives the impression that you are trying to reel in a big fish. Speaking of fish, also avoid the dead fish handshake. A firmly-flexed vertical hand with medium modulation is the best approach.

Be sensitive to the fact that some people avoid handshakes due to physical reasons and do not force the issue or embarrass the person.

Other than the handshake, there should be absolutely no touching of any other part of the body. This means, do not grab the elbow as you walk toward the elevator, do not put your hand on or playfully punch the shoulder of the other person, even if he is a “good guy.”

Obviously, stay away from touching the legs or knees of any other person when sitting.

3. Avoid too much eye contact

Anything over 70% of eye contact during the first few minutes will cause great anxiety in the other person. A fixed gaze will send signals that are ambiguous at best and threatening at worst.

The best approach is to lock eyes for a few seconds, then move your gaze on something else, perhaps a lapel pin or name tag, then return eye contact for a few seconds more.

If you are a male meeting a female, avoid giving the up and down “checking her out” pattern, as most women find that highly offensive.

Another caveat with eye contact is to avoid looking around the room during the first moments of meeting another person.

Make sure the person recognizes you are focused 100% on him or her, even if the timing is fleeting.

4. Do not smile as if you are holding back gas

If you try to force a smile, it will look as phony as a bad toupee. If you have a problem warming up to a new person with a genuine smile, try envisioning the person as having a check for a million dollars in her purse that she is about to give you.

In reality she may have things inside her head that could be worth much more than a million dollars to you. Consider that possibility and be genuinely happy to meet the person. It will show on your face.

Do not go over the top with enthusiasm in your greeting – The greeting must come straight from the heart to send the signal you want. Your greeting should not gush or be drawn out like an Academy Award performance like, “Oh darling, how simply marvelous to meet you” – kissy kissy. You could make the other person want to vomit.

5. Avoid talking about yourself
Hold up on discussing your interests until cued by the other person. The natural tendency is to think in terms of this new person’s relationship to your world.
Try to reverse this logic and think about wanting to know more about his or her world, so you can link in emotionally to the other person’s thoughts.

If you ask two or three questions of the other person, he or she will eventually ask a question about you.

6. Listen more and talk less

Try to keep the ratio of listening versus talking to roughly 70-30% with the weight of your attention on listening. The highest rated conversationalists are the ones who say the fewest number of words.

By doing the six steps I have outlined while avoiding the extremes on the second list, you will have a good start to a new relationship. You will have planted the seeds of trust well. After that, you need to nurture the relationship continually to allow the seeds to grow to maturity.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.























Instant Rapport

September 30, 2012

We all know that the first few minutes when meeting a new person or client are critical to the relationship. Malcolm Gladwell referred to the “thin slices” of meaning we interpret subconsciously when meeting someone new. His contention is that a relationship is basically established after just a few seconds, so it is important to know what to do and what to avoid doing in this critical period.

While we know the vital importance of body language and tone of voice, few of us have received any formal training on what things to do and to avoid to maximize the potential for good rapport and trust. The overarching objective is to let your natural personality and essence shine through as well as be sincerely interested in learning the qualities of the other person. This means making sure all the signals you send are congruent with your true nature and being alert for the full range of signals being sent by the other person.

While there are entire books on this topic, I wanted to share six things to do and six things to avoid from my own experience and background. Note these items are somewhat mechanical in nature. They are not intended to replace the good judgment in any instance but are offered as tips that can help in most cases.

Things to do:

1. Be yourself. Trying to force yourself into a mold that is not your natural state will not translate well. Regardless of your effort, you will unwittingly send ambiguous signals that will subconsciously be perceived as you trying too hard to establish rapport.

2. Shake hands. In most cultures, the hand shake is the touch ritual that conveys major content about both individuals. Each person is sending and receiving signals on several different levels in the few moments it takes to shake hands. Learn how to do it right, and do it with the right attitude. The handshake should project what is in your heart. Note, there are many myths about handshakes. For example, a “firm” handshake has historically been thought to send a signal of competence and power. If the firmness is amplified to a bone-crushing clamp, it actually sends a signal that the crusher is insecure, because why else would someone crush a hand unless he thought it was necessary to appear powerful.

3. Make good eye contact. We communicate at many levels with our eyes. It is important to really see the other person in a natural and pleasing way. Here is a tip about eye contact while shaking hands. Try to see through the eyes into the soul of the person you are meeting. Inside the other person’s head is a wonderland of possibilities, and the window to that information is first through the eyes.

4. Smile – Make sure it is appropriate to smile (although sometimes a somber expression is more appropriate – like at a funeral). The caveat here is that the smile must be genuine, not phony. Learn to smile from the eyes by picturing an oval from your eyebrows to your lips. Show your teeth, if they are in good shape. This really helps the warmth of a smile. Be sure to maintain eye contact while you are smiling. The peripheral vision of the other person will allow him or her to appreciate the smile. Consider the duration of the smile, because too short or too long of a smile can send mixed signals.

5. Give a genuine greeting – Most people say “how are you” or “nice to meet you.” Those greetings are not bad, but they do pass over an opportunity to show real enthusiasm for meeting the other person. Reason: these greetings are perfunctory and overused. They accomplish the greeting mechanically, but they do not establish a high emotional engagement. You might try a variant like “I am excited to meet you” or “how wonderful to meet you.” Be careful to not get sappy: see caveat number five below.

6. Ask the other person a question – The typical and easiest thing to do is say “tell me about yourself,” but you only would use that if there was adequate time for the individual to take you from grade school to the rest home. A better approach is to consider the environment around the person. There will be a clue as to what the other person might be experiencing at that moment. If you link in to the emotion with a question that draws out the other person, you have established dialog that is constructive. For example, if you meet a person in a hotel lobby who is dragging two suitcases with his left hand, you might say while shaking the right hand, “have you been travelling all day?” or “can I help you with one of your bags?”

Doing these six things will set you up for a good first impression provided they are consistent with the situation and your persona, but there are extensions of these same six things that should be avoided or you may blow the opportunity.

Things to avoid:

1. Do not work too hard – other people will instantly recognize at a gut level if you are putting on an act to impress them. If your natural tendency is to be a slap happy kind of salesman when meeting people, try to turn down the volume on that part while maintaining a cheerful nature.

2. One handed shakes only – the two handed shake, known as the “politician’s handshake,” is too invasive for a first meeting. It will cause the other person to emotionally retreat as a defense mechanism. It gives the impression that you are trying to reel in a big fish. Speaking of fish, also avoid the dead fish handshake. A firmly-flexed vertical hand with medium modulation is the best approach. Be sensitive to the fact that some people avoid handshakes due to physical reasons and do not force the issue or embarrass the person. Other than the handshake, there should be absolutely no touching of any other part of the body. This means, do not grab the elbow as you walk toward the elevator, do not put your hand on or playfully punch the shoulder of the other person, even if he is a “good guy.” Obviously, stay away from touching the legs or knees of any other person when sitting.

3. Avoid too much eye contact – Anything over 70% of eye contact during the first few minutes will cause great anxiety in the other person. A fixed gaze will send signals that are ambiguous at best and threatening at worst. The best approach is to lock eyes for a few seconds, then move your gaze on something else, perhaps a lapel pin or name tag, then return eye contact for a few seconds more. If you are a male meeting a female, avoid giving the up and down “checking her out” pattern, as many women find that highly offensive. Another caveat with eye contact is to avoid looking around the room during the first moments of meeting another person. Make sure the person recognizes you are focused 100% on him or her, even if the timing if fleeting. For example, Bill Clinton is said to have a gift of focusing genuine attention on each person, even when he is going down a long line of people he will never see again. With the intense eye contact, he makes each person feel valued in just a split second.

4. Do not smile as if you are holding back gas. If you try to force a smile, it will look as phony as a bad toupee. If you have a problem warming up to a new person with a genuine smile, try envisioning the person as having a check for a million dollars in her purse that she is about to give you. In reality she may have things inside her head that could be worth much more than a million dollars to you. Consider that possibility and be genuinely happy to meet the person. It will show on your face.

5. Do not go over the top with enthusiasm in your greeting – The greeting must come straight from the heart to send the signal you want. Your greeting should not gush or be drawn out like an Academy Award performance like, “Oh darling, how simply marvelous to meet you” – kissy kissy. You could make the other person want to vomit.

6. Avoid talking about yourself – Hold up on discussing your interests until cued by the other person. The natural tendency is to think in terms of this new person’s relationship to your world. Try to reverse this logic and think about wanting to know more about his or her world so you can link in emotionally to the other person’s thoughts. If you ask two or three questions of the other person, he or she will eventually ask a question about you. Try to keep the ratio of listening versus talking to roughly 70-30% with the weight of your attention on listening. The best conversationalists are the ones who do the least amount of talking.

By doing the six steps I have outlined while avoiding the extremes on the second list, you will have a good start to a new relationship. You will have planted the seeds of trust well. After that, you need to nurture the relationship continually to allow the seeds to grow to maturity.


Who Can I Trust?

August 19, 2012

Imagine you have just been parachuted into a new area or organization where you do not yet know the people. All of us have been in that situation more than once in our lives. You recognize that first impressions are incredibly important and want to start off on the right foot. Of course, you introduce yourself and immediately try to get to know your new working buddies.

There is an interesting dynamic that goes on for the first few days upon entering a new organization. You are sizing up people, and they are evaluating you. Actually, behavioral scientists say the first few moments when meeting another person are incredibly important in terms of establishing the starting point for each relationship.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell refers to a phenomenon he calls “thin slicing.” He contends that human beings have a knack of sizing up other people in only 2-3 seconds, and that impression has a lot to do with how well the relationship proceeds. Of course, it is the consistent behaviors over time that ultimately determines the level of trust between people, but the rate of development is hugely impacted by the first impression.

So you are in your new environment. You recognize that some of these people will become your close confidants while others will be held at arm’s length and never fully trusted. How can you know quickly who can be trusted? Is that even important to do? I believe it is critical to identify the following seven factors as soon as possible:

1. Genuine or phony? – Does this person ring true as a person of high integrity, or is he/she a blowhard who will say things for effect?

2. Smart or Dumb? – Is the person capable of operating effectively in the working world, or is he/she bluffing along without the skills needed to be effective?

3. Friendly or Aloof? – It is easy to spot someone who is genuinely interested in you versus someone who just talks a good game.

4. Trustworthy or Shaky? – To gauge trustworthiness, be alert for eye contact. Either too little or too much eye contact can be a problem. The normal level of eye contact to be viewed as trustworthy is about 70%.

5. Consistent or Flighty? – This aspect is difficult to judge quickly. Obviously time will tell if this person is good at follow-up, but you can quickly judge the intent to be consistent. That is a starting point for some trust to grow on over time.

6. Respected or Suspect? – Other people will have knowledge of the individual you are just meeting. Watch the body language and comfort level the new person has with others in the area. That will tell you a lot about your chances of connecting with the person.

7. Honest or a Crook – Spotting someone who will lie cheat or steal is not as easy as it seems. Competent liars are out there, so you need to read signals carefully. Watch the body language, particularly the eye contact. .

It is inevitable that you will do something during the first few days that appears to be clumsy or goofy. It is normal to have a moment or two of embarrassment as you get to know new people. Don’t be thrown when this happens to you. I have found when I have done or said something stupid, it helps to say something like, “Well we always make some bonehead comment at first, I’m glad we got it out of the way so soon.” That logic plays well with other people because you signal that you do not take yourself too seriously.

When you are in a new environment, there is a lot at stake. If you get off on the wrong footing, it will take months, perhaps years, to set things right. Obviously it is important to watch your own behaviors, but beware of trying too hard. You cannot fake the body language; people will read you accurately with incredible speed. The best advice is to relax, be yourself, and be genuinely delighted to be making new friends.