Trust is the key to successful business relationships. Strong trust means that a person becomes open and willing to engage with you. It’s one of the key ways in which an expert becomes and influencer.
We cannot expect to create a compelling and influential relationship unless we are first masters of making a powerful first impression.
Imagine a situation where we meet someone for the first time. What are our first feelings? Are we immediately comfortable with them or are we unsure at first, cautious and perhaps a little suspicious?
Most likely the latter and this is perfectly natural. We seldom share our deepest secrets on first meeting someone. There is a process, mostly unconscious, which occurs within relationships as they develop.
However it’s also true that we ‘click’ with some people. While with others we take and maintain an immediate dislike to them.
In short, we have decided very quickly what ‘level of threat’ this person is to us, based on how different or similar they are to us. All trust is built on minimising perceived threat.
There are things that people do unconsciously to build trust – but by understanding what we do and when to do them, we can choose to use them in situations where we have to think consciously about affecting a professional relationship.
Here I have included just three of the things that can help with first contact.
We immediately start to judge a person by what we see and here is where we can score major bonus points immediately.
Firstly, our appearance is important. Suitable dress (appropriate to the circumstance), general hygiene, style of hair etc. will all help with the initial impact we make.
More subtly, eye contact (or the lack of it) plays a part in judgement.
Poor eye contact creates a negative feeling in the other person. It communicates a lack of) interest in the other person and nobody likes to be ‘overlooked’ and so they in turn will reflect that back to us and exhibit a similar low level of interest in us - hardly the best way to start an influential relationship.
We should always give good eye contact when we meet someone new. The eyes are the ‘windows of the soul’ and we can communicate very powerfully with just our eyes - when we flirt with someone for example or look skywards to portray exasperation.
For some of us however it is difficult to maintain eye contact without staring. This can be awkward as staring can often portray aggression or potential confrontation and most definitely will not assist us with developing good rapport!
In general, we create safe, neutral and yet effective eye-contact when we keep our gaze anywhere within an inverted triangle, with the apex ending at the point of the chin and the base of the triangle between the person’s eyes.
Keeping our gaze anywhere within this imaginary triangle will help us maintain good eye contact of a non-confrontational nature while keeping the person’s interest and attention on us.
A handshake is a powerful way to install feelings in someone as soon as ‘first contact’ is made. As most client decisions are emotionally based, we need to ensure that first feelings are good feelings.
For example, imagine how you feel when we get that loose, limp, “wet fish”, handshake? Or what about the “earthquake” where the hand is seized and squeezed in a vice-like grip?
Sometimes clients may attempt to dominate the handshake (and hence the relationship) and their hand will be very prominently placed, palm downwards, on top of ours, deliberately (although probably unconsciously) placing us in a submissive position. They may even extend their hand with theirs pointing downwards, forcing us to place our hand underneath theirs.
To counteract this, all we have to do is cover the top of their hand by grasping it briefly with our other hand, so that we end up enclosing their original handshake in our two hands.
Now who’s in charge...and we have given a clear sign that we intend to conduct our business and relationship as equals.
However, we can also use this in our favour.
By being the first to engage someone by extending our hand palm upwards in the ‘submissive’ position – we immediately place our client in a ‘dominant’ (and therefore a safer) position.
Their immediate feelings are therefore of being in control, safe and as a result their initial anxiety is lessened - as is their potential resistance to us
To be a powerful influencer it’s important to remember that the person who controls the questions is the person who controls the conversation.
It’s also important to remember that, in general, people love to talk about themselves. They are their favourite subject - so let them.
It’s not often that we get an attentive audience and we tend to love the opportunity to talk about ourselves. We also tend to think very favourably about the people who listen attentively to our stories.
So, ask questions, be curious. It’s a powerful trust-building tool. It enhances the person’s feeling of safety with you, as the person they are hearing talking most is themselves – and who do they feel the safest and most comfortable with?
Questions maintain attention, allowing us to identify the triggers by which clients make their decisions, the values that they consider important, they allow us to install ideas, explore, change perception. They are the ultimate influencing tools.