8 Ways to Use Body Language to Build Trust

These nonverbal cues will help people see you as more trustworthy.

Put your phone down

iStock/dolgachov

Maintaining eye contact when someone is talking will help build trust because it shows genuine interest, but that’s hard to do if you keep glancing at your phone or scanning around the room. “Listen with your eyes,” says Paul Zak, PhD, author of Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High Performance Companies. “It says, ‘I don’t want to look at emails—you’re important.’ Building stronger human ties makes it easier to trust people and know more about them.” Check out the 40+ most trusted brands in America, from a new Reader’s Digest survey.

Uncross your arms and legs

iStock/Martin Dimitrov

You might only be crossing your arms and legs, say, because you’re cold, but that stance closes you off. “They’re unknowingly communicating something negative because they’ve positioned their body in a way that is a defense mechanism,” says Lisa Gueldenzoph Snyder, PhD, professor and chairperson of the department of business education at North Carolina A&T State University. “It blocks any basis for building trust.” Make sure your body looks open—you’ll look more open to hearing others’ thoughts. These are subtle habits you have that make people trust you.

Don’t sit behind a desk

iStock/Steve Debenport

Sitting behind a desk creates another barrier that could make the person you’re talking to put his or her own walls up. Carla Chamberlin-Quinlisk, PhD, professor of applied linguistics/communication arts and sciences at Pennsylvania State University, Abington, says sitting at a table with her students encourages them to be more vocal during class. “I want them to tell me if there’s something they don’t understand; I want them to say if they don’t agree with me,” she says. “Try not to have a big barrier between you.” Try these smart ways to get your boss to trust you.

Content continues below ad

Touch (appropriately)

iStock/BraunS

Lightly touching a friend on the hand can indicate your support for that person. “If you say ‘I’m sorry’ but don’t have any body language, there’s very little meaning attached to it,” Dr. Gueldenzoph Snyder says. “A touch on the elbow or shoulder communicates more empathy than saying ‘Oh I’m so sorry.’” Just don’t use this tactic in the workplace, which Dr. Gueldenzoph Snyder says is a “major no-no” because even casual touches can be misinterpreted. Here little habits that can increase your empathy.

Just smile and nod

iStock/g-stockstudio

Nodding and smiling while someone is talking shows you’re listening, which indicates you’re interested in what the person is saying. “It’s a really good indicator of listening when we give good nonverbal feedback,” Dr. Chamberlin-Quinlisk says. Just don’t be too cheesy—overdoing the positive reaction will make you seem less genuine, she warns.

Keep your palms open

iStock/Yuri_Arcurs

Pointing your fingers looks like an accusation, and pounding your fist makes you seem angry, even if you’re just using those gestures for emphasis. If you open your fingers, people will in turn be more open to you. “If you’re using your hand to emphasize and it’s an open palm with all five fingers extended, that shows openness,” Dr. Gueldenzoph Snyder says. “If you close your fingers, it’s blaming and not an open gesture.” These are signs you can totally trust your partner.

Content continues below ad

Come down to their level

iStock/PeopleImages

Sitting in a higher chair than other people indicates dominance over them—which is great if you want to seem more powerful, but not so good if you’re trying to build trust, Dr. Dr. Chamberlin-Quinlisk says. In a similar way, sitting in the middle of a conference table instead of at the end will make people let their guards down enough to spit out better ideas, Dr. Zak says. “If you’re devolving power down to others, you’ll get more input and better results,” he says. Don't make these body language mistakes during a job interview.

Limit your note taking

iStock/KucherAV

Sometimes notes are necessary when you’re talking to a coworker, but make sure all that jotting doesn’t get in the way of your eye contact. If you’re constantly writing down what the other person says, that person could start feeling self-conscious. “Having a clipboard and taking notes makes the other person feel uncomfortable and like ‘Why are they writing that down?’” Dr. Chamberlin-Quinlisk says. These magic phrases can make anyone trust you.

View as Slideshow

Become more interesting every week!

Get our Read Up newsletter

how we use your e-mail
We will use your email address to send you this newsletter. For more information please read our privacy policy.