One Simple Trick That Will Make People Trust You

Want to appear trustworthy in a conversation or presentation? Try this.

Posted Sep 14, 2020

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels
Source: Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

A recent study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin offers a relatively easy way to appear more trustworthy—news you can use for anyone who needs to win over an audience, whether that's an audience of one or two in a crucial conversation, or a larger audience listening to a presentation or speech.

Let's start with the basics. You demonstrate trust in terms of content by showing you understand the audience’s problems. In body language terms, you establish trust with open behavior and gestures, and credibility with authoritative behavior and gestures. The voice is especially important in this regard—to establish authority, speak at the low end, but not the bottom, of your vocal range. Speakers often overcompensate instinctively, pushing their voices too low, thus achieving a vocal quality something like the sound of squirrels playing in gravel, not very authoritative. And a voice pitched too high can sound stressed out or frantic, don’t go there, either.

The good news: The study found that “a neutral face with a slightly upturned mouth and eyebrows makes people look more trustworthy.”

The author of the study, Dr. Jonathan Freeman, said, “Our findings show that facial cues conveying trustworthiness are malleable while facial cues conveying competence and ability are significantly less so. The results suggest you can influence to an extent how trustworthy others perceive you to be—but perceptions of your competence or ability are considerably less able to be changed.”

For anyone not completely terrified or over-caffeinated, this facial expression seems relatively easy to adopt and thus use to increase your trustworthiness.

And, as the author of the study notes, this kind of body language message is more powerful: “The brain automatically responds to a face’s trustworthiness before it is even consciously perceived. The results are consistent with an extensive body of research suggesting that we form spontaneous judgments of other people that can be largely outside awareness. These findings provide evidence that the amygdala’s processing of social cues in the absence of awareness may be more extensive than previously understood.”

You don’t consciously control your evaluation of other people’s trustworthiness. Your unconscious mind does. The ability to influence that unconscious decision is powerful for anyone looking to connect to an audience.

I’m going to start practicing that little smile and raised eyebrows. If I do it regularly, it will become automatic behavior on my part, and then watch out world – I’ll be selling Brooklyn Bridges to all comers. Or at least creating a more positive connection.