“Hi! You’re looking…”
Don’t just give friends and coworkers an upnod or an insincere “How are you?” while you breeze past. Pause and take a moment to comment on their appearance, whether they look happy, sad, or sick. You’ll probably spark a conversation about the weekend plans they’re looking forward to or the sick child they’re taking care of, says Paul Zak, PhD, author of Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High Performance Companies. Instead of making small talk, “it’s a much deeper conversation, but people almost always respond well to it,” he says. “It builds that emotional tie.” Check out the 40+ most trusted brands in America, from a new Reader’s Digest survey.
“I understand what you’re saying”
Even if you disagree with someone’s views, show them you respect their beliefs with a phrase like “I appreciate your opinion” before trying to change their mind, says Lisa Gueldenzoph Snyder, PhD, professor and chairperson of the department of business education at North Carolina A&T State University. “Then provide an example that supports their perspective before transitioning the conversation to your perspective,” she says. This way, they’ll feel less criticized and will be more open to trusting what you have to say. On the other hand, these phrases make an argument worse.
“In my opinion…”
When you’re about to share that dissenting opinion, transition between showing you want to understand the other perspective and your take on the subject. Phrases like “in my opinion” and “others suggest” make you seem more open to other opinions than “I” statements. “Try to use pronouns that don’t make it one-sided,” Dr. Gueldenzoph Snyder says. “Immediately saying ‘I think’ puts the focus on you instead of the combined conversation.” Also avoid saying “actually” and “in your opinion,” which imply the other person is wrong. Said the wrong thing? These phrases can save an awkward conversation.
“How did you think that went?”
When starting a conversation about how someone could improve, let people gauge their success by their own standards. Starting with your own judgments could make the other person clam up and share less information. “Let them decide how successful it was and what they want to talk about,” says Carla Chamberlin-Quinlisk, PhD, professor of applied linguistics, and communication arts and sciences at Pennsylvania State University, Abington. “If you put a judgment on it and ask what they can do better, it puts that person on the defenses.” Here's exactly how to get your boss to trust you.
“Sorry about the traffic”
A study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that participants were quicker to trust people who started a conversation by apologizing for something they weren’t responsible for. They rated a hypothetical Craigslist seller as more trustworthy when the person apologized for the rain rather than made a neutral comment about it or didn’t mention it at all. “By issuing a superfluous apology, you acknowledge someone else’s misfortune and express sympathy—a benevolent perspective-taking tactic,” says Alison Wood Brooks, PhD, assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and co-author of the study.
“I think you know my friend”
Whether they look like us, talk like us, or have similar interests, we’re attracted to people who seem familiar, Dr. Zak says. Establishing mutual friends with someone you just met will instantly make you seem more trustworthy. That person will know you're telling the truth by asking that shared connection. “If you’re like us, it’s easier to trust you,” he says. “Finding a shared friend or one person removed is an effective way. It’s always verifiable.” Here's how to make a good first impression.
“That was my fault”
You might think mistakes will kill your credibility, but accepting your shortcomings actually builds trust by showing that you’re human. “People who are imperfect are more attractive to us,” Dr. Zak says. “We like them more than people who seem too perfect.” It might be hard to admit to your faults at first, but if you do it enough, your brain will get used to it and you can change your habits, he says. Here's what science says about forgiveness.
“Can you give me a hand?”
Once you admit you’ve messed up, asking for someone else’s help will make you seem even more trustworthy to that person. A study in the journal Management Science found that participants rated others as more competent when they asked for help. This was especially true when the task was difficult, when the advisee seemed knowledgeable, and when the volunteer was asked personally. “In our research, we find that people are hesitant to ask for advice because they are afraid they will appear incompetent,” says study author Dr. Wood Brooks. “This fear is misplaced. People view those who seek their advice as more competent than those who do not seek their advice.” Here's how you can use body language to build trust.
“I trust your judgment”
After you’ve asked for assistance, don’t micromanage someone who’s trying to help. Let them know your goal for them, then let them execute that plan however they see fit. “Give them control of their lives,” Dr. Zak says. “Autonomy is important. It shows we trust other people.” Check out these thought-provoking quotes about trust.
“Uh-huh, I see”
Using non-word sounds like “mhm” or “uh-huh” when someone is talking to you shows you’re interested, which will encourage a person to like you and trust you more, Dr. Gueldenzoph Snyder says. “It’s reinforcement that you’re paying attention and are interested in what that person has to say,” she says. Just don’t start making more noises than feels natural when you’re listening—overcompensating will come off as insincere, she says. Good listeners always do these things.