Trust is the cornerstone of every successful relationship. But for many of us, gaining the trust of colleagues, clients, or employees doesn’t come easy.
Wharton School of Business professor Maurice Schweitzer says building trust doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process. In his new book, Friend & Foe, he describes a formula long used by psychologists to gain patients’ trust. By striking a balance between appearing credible and also human, Schweitzer says you can gain anyone’s trust quickly and easily.
Creating an initial impression of competence is the first part of the trust formula. Psychologists will often hang their credentials on their wall or dress in a manner that demonstrates competence, such as a white lab coat, for example. In a business setting, leading with competence may mean demonstrating your expertise by using the right jargon, coming into the relationship with a recommendation (“So-and-so suggested I reach out to you”), or stating your experience and credentials.
The next thing psychologists will do is try to put people at ease, as when people are more relaxed, they’re more willing to divulge personal information. Psychologists will often try to break the ice by engaging in what they call “non-task communication.” That is, speaking about things that are irrelevant to the visit, such as sports or the weather. These discussions, Schweitzer says, shift the way the patient views the psychologist.
“The kinds of people I talk about sports with, those are my friends. So I’m triggering a sense of, ‘We’re friends,’ and when I’ve established that rapport, that then bleeds into when we start to dig into the task at hand,” he says. By thinking of the psychologist as a friend, patients are more open to divulging personal information. Taking the time to engage in these informal conversations is key to making yourself approachable, likeable, and warm. “You don’t want to just jump right into business. You want to take your time to get there,” says Schweitzer.
People are more likely to trust others who are at the same level as themselves. After meeting their patient, a psychologist may remove his or her lab coat. To establish trust among employees, Schweitzer recommends managers remove things from their office that reinforce the fact that they have power over the other person. This may be as simple as removing their suit jacket or tie, or it may mean holding the meeting in a different setting, such as going for a walk together or meeting in a coffee shop, which help to break down the hierarchy, rather than in an office where the boss is sitting behind a bigger desk in a bigger chair.
Psychologists will often do something that makes them appear fallible, such as spilling their pencils or a cup of coffee, or telling a bad joke. “They’ll do these things to make them more approachable in a way that humanizes them, and it helps to put people at ease,” says Schweitzer. Telling your new coworker an embarrassing story or going out for a night of karaoke can do wonders for your relationship, since showing vulnerability has the power to change the way someone thinks of their relationship with you.
“Our relationship gets transformed because we’re had an experience together where you feel like you know me more deeply now and trust can be built more quickly because of that.” The only caveat? Just remember to establish credibility first before you exhibit vulnerability–otherwise you’ll just come off as a clutz.