Have you ever said, “I’m not sure why, but I just don’t trust him (or her)."
Maybe your intuition is tapping into the Body-Emotion-Language Connection.
It is clear that we lose trust through broken promises, but body language also promotes or prevents trust.
In the 1980’s, Albert Mehrabian conducted research that led to the often-quoted statement that body language conveys as much as 93% of what people believe about a speaker's meaning. I will point out that Mehrabian’s research only dealt with perceptions about emotions and attitudes. However, it is emotions and attitudes that frequently affect a person’s willingness to interact with other people - for leaders, the willingness to join them in a particular mission.
In the same study, Mehrabian found another important piece of information. When a person’s words are not congruent with body, facial expression, and voice, listeners tend to believe body and voice rather than a person's words.
This is significant information for leaders who want to build trust. It suggests that body language and attention to coherence of body, emotion and language are essential to trust-building and retention.
For people tuned in to physical reactions of others, recognizing that words do not match voice and physical presence is a signal that something is amiss. Even people who are not tuned in to these signals may sense a problem. Whether you call it intuition or being a good reader of character, there is some science behind it.
Think of the times you sense hesitation in someone’s voice or you believe someone doesn't really believe what they are saying. Unless you have a large “trust” account with the person, that experience leads to mistrust, which affects willingness to work with or coordinate action with them in the future.
It is important for leaders to consider this information when working to gain the trust required to accomplish their goals and achieve their missions. When thinking about how to build trust, effective leaders consider the following:
- Be authentic. Recognize your own emotions and learn to navigate them appropriately.
- Be aware of what your body is saying. Are your voice and physical presence saying more than your words?
- Observe other people. Notice how their bodies and voices align with their words.
- If you are required to give information with which you disagree, determine how you will give that information so your emotions do not speak louder than your words.
- Most important, speak the truth. If you hold information that you cannot divulge, tactfully acknowledge that you are not at liberty to discuss a particular topic.
Effective leaders tmay practice these essential trust-building skills naturally, but it is important to recognize their importance and align body, emotion and language to build and maintain relationships that depend on trust and good will.
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This topic is covered in much greater detail in my book, Connect: Affective Leadership℠ for Effective Results.