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.


Versions of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com and in the July 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

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.

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