Trump and Clinton--Drop the Dour Demeanor

Media pundits and critics have commented on Trump’s and Clinton’s communication styles and demeanor almost as often as their policies. I’m convinced both could improve their rankings going into the presidential debates and into the last stretch of the presidential race if they’d drop their dour demeanor in exchange for body language that builds trust.

They remind me of my high school principal, Mr. McGowan, who appeared to be in pain as he talked. I never recall seeing him smile—at ballgames, in the cafeterias, on holidays, or during summer break.

Some politicians and corporate leaders surely must feel his pain. Their eyes look stern, their voice sounds gruff, and their jaw locks. So how important is that in the big scheme of corporate profits and world politics?

Such demeanor discourages people—staffers, voters, peers, customers––from asking questions, challenging them, pointing out potential problems, offering helpful feedback, making innovative suggestions, or providing useful information.

The latest corporate scandal, a politician’s illicit affair, or the professional athlete’s arrest—all of these situations give the public plenty of practice in identifying the body language of disgust, denial, and deception:

  • Averting eye contact (except in some countries, where this is a sign of respect for one’s elders)
  • Touching the mouth or nose (lying)
  • A forced smile with no eye involvement
  • Feet pointed away from the person asking questions (as if trying to escape the scene)
  • Arms folded (defensiveness)

But not nearly so much attention has been paid to the body language of trust. Salespeople, marketing professionals, consultants, speakers, physicians, counselors, coaches, and attorneys particularly stand to benefit as their body language improves. In fact, their livelihood depends on it.

When a person sincerely likes and trusts another person or group, the body language more naturally reflects those feelings. To make sure your body language accurately reflects your trust or to increase trust with clients and coworkers, keep these tips in mind:

Maintain Direct Eye Contact; Stop Playing With Your Gadgets

Look at the other person as they talk to you—not at your phone, your notes, over their shoulder, or around the room. This one habit is the single most important rapport builder of all—and nowadays, the most frequently broken. Playing with your electronic devices while someone is trying to talk to you has become a huge irritation and a key reason for creating sudden distance in a relationship. If you need to check a message or look up data, excuse yourself from the conversation or tell the other person what you’re doing if it pertains to the conversation at hand.

Keep Your Head Straight

The position of your head says a great deal. An upward-tilted chin says you’re arrogant, cocky. A dipped chin may communicate fear or disapproval. Tilting your head to the side as you talk or listen suggests you need approval.

Smile Naturally—With Your Eyes

If you want to know your natural smile, think of a funny story or someone you love. Then take a selfie or ask someone to snap a photo of you when you smile or laugh. You’ll notice tiny wrinkles around the eyes. As a contrast, do the prom-queen or prom-king smile and snap the photo. You’ll discover no eye movement in the snapshot. Your client or coworker easily recognizes insincerity.

Sit or Stand in a Relaxed But Attentive Posture

A rigid posture says you’re stressed, uncomfortable, and perhaps distrustful of the person or group you’re facing. To relax your posture, swing your arms backward from the shoulder one at a time as if doing a swimming backstroke. See how your posture improves? Now relax that posture slightly, but keep your shoulders back. You’ll look comfortable, but energetic, interested, and friendly.

Use Open Gestures Above the Waist As You Speak

If your gestures are below the waist or behind a lectern, people can’t see them. Such gestures make you appear to be “hiding something.” That’s particularly true when you’re seated at a table in a meeting. Gestures waist-high and above draw attention to the face and eyes, “the windows of the soul,” according to the poets Marcel Proust and William Shakespeare.

Strong communicators know that their body language and behavior trump their words. Let your demeanor discourage strategic communication at your own peril. Demonstrate trust to gain trust. It’s a winning posture literally and figuratively.

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