When you communicate with someone-one to one or in front of a large auditorium-your body language creates an instant visual first impression that answers a big question for your listener: "Can I trust this person?"
Recently, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, Dr. David DeSteno, pinpointed 4 gestures that can undermine your trustworthiness.
- Touching your hands
- Touching your face
- Crossing your arms
- Leaning away
Furthermore, Dr. DeSteno discovered that the more participants in his study performed these actions, the less they were trusted.
You may be making some (or all) of these gestures unwittingly, so take some time to learn what they are, and be aware of your own actions. This small investment can go a long way towards winning friends, colleagues, and clients over to your point of view. After all, we follow people we trust.
Once you've determined your habits, here are some ways to break bad ones:
1. Keep your hands neutral.
Touching your own hands can make you look tentative and nervous, which could cause observers to think you are hiding something, not being honest, or that you lack confidence. Clasping your hands together may also be interpreted as a closing-off gesture: It could look as if you were putting up a fence between yourself and the people you're speaking with.
2. Keep your hands away from your face.
Touching your own face is a common gesture that signals you are thinking. After all, you're touching your head. But what you are thinking is unknown to those who are trying to determine if you can be trusted. And if they don't know you well, the safe choice might be to decide that you're up to no good. To touch another's face is a gesture of intimacy and affection, but to touch your own face is seen as masking your expression.
3. Arms should stay relaxed and open.
Crossing your arms is a classic closing gesture. By doing it, you cover your heart and protect your solar plexus, the most vulnerable real estate on the body. Crossing the arms tends to communicate that your true feelings will remain undisclosed, and that you are not open for collaboration.
4. Lean in.
We like people who like us. When you lean in, you express the desire to be close. When you lean away, you could very well be seen as someone who is running away, disengaged, or avoiding contact-you're aloof on the balcony, not moshing on the dance floor.
Successful public figures are trained to avoid these gestures, which is behavioral marketing: it's hard to win over the masses if you send negative body language signals.
Those of us in business also need to earn the trust of the people we seek to influence-which is almost everyone we meet, from direct reports to peers, to the big boss at the top of the food chain. With a little practice, you can avoid touching your hands and face, crossing your arms, or leaning away from people you're conversing with.