How do you know you can trust someone? A lot of folks will tell you they decide to believe in someone based on what people do rather than what they say.

Turns out that works…even when the person hasn’t said anything yet.

Our initial assessment of trustworthiness is based mainly on non-verbal cues, which makes sense when you think about it. As Seth Godin pointed out in his blog this week, “People watch what you do. They watch with the sound off… They seek out clues of the tiniest sort.

We were in tribes for a very long time before we even developed language.”

So what do you see that tells you, “I trust this one enough to let ‘em into my tribe”? And…what should you do to make it more likely that a new acquaintance will trust you?

First thing most people say is eye contact. When an individual looks us right in the eye during a conversation, even a short one, and when they seem comfortable maintaining that visual connection, we assume they’re being straightforward.

Of course the opposite is true too. It raises suspicion when we’re talking to someone who looks at their shoes or off to the side, or over the top of our head. Or maybe you’ve run into a person who closes their eyes or blinks unusually fast and often; those habits make it harder to develop trust.

You know what the lawmen in those old Westerns used to say: “Keep your hands where I can see ‘em!”

Turns out that’s also good advice if you want to build trust. People want to see your hands. Putting your hands in your pockets or behind your back diminishes credibility.

Think about the language; we might refer to a sneaky move as “underhanded.”

In fact, are you familiar with the lore about the handshake’s origin? They say the ritual greeting evolved in ancient times as a way to demonstrate to an opponent—or an ally—my right hand is empty. I don’t have a weapon.

But of course there was that shake, just to make sure nothing’s hidden up a sleeve.

Seated at a table, you want your hands visible. Again, the language is revealing. “Aboveboard” means straightforward or honest. And has, since the 1600s when keeping the hands above the table or board was meant to discourage cheating at cards

In general, stillness conveys trustworthiness. We wonder about someone who fidgets a lot. Does he really mean what he’s saying? In particular, to be seen as credible, you want to keep your hands off your face and hair.

When I was a fledgling presentation skills trainer, I had to watch myself on video delivering our program content. Like most people, I hated seeing myself on the screen.

It’s a great tool for mastering physical skills, though. So watch myself I did. And what jumped right out at me was—I kept brushing my nose.

trustwprthyOver and over and over – just gently touching the tip of my nose as if a mosquito had landed there and I was brushing it off. It looked goofy as hell on the video.

Also, I knew that body language experts consider nose-touching a sign that the person is lying. There’s a reason it’s Pinocchio’s nose that grows with every fib.

Conclusion? Well, I wasn’t lying, certainly. But I WAS faking it a little bit. Standing up there in front of seasoned professionals as if I were a presentation skills maven when I was really a refugee from radio just starting out in a whole new arena. Where people would actually be right there in the room looking back at me…and what if they figured out I wasn’t really an expert yet? YIKES.

It took practice, but I did learn to deliver the program without all that nose-touching. Rule of thumb: if you want them to trust you, keep your hands away from your face.

We could have a whole conversation about language that conveys credibility…and speech that spawns skepticism. We’ll save that for another time. For now, just one tidbit about talking and trust.

You’re familiar with the stereotype of the fast-talking salesman? Well, “fast” is a relative term. The real key is to match your conversational partner’s rate of speech. If you talk faster than they do, they’re likely to feel pressured and pull away.

Post a comment below about who you trust and who you don’t…and what is it about them that causes your reaction?