(Note: This is the second article in a series on the topic Building Trust to Stop Conflict Before It Starts.)
One major strategy to stop conflicts before they start: build trust by communicating warmth and openness. Let me illustrate briefly from personal experience what warmth and openness do not look like!
A kind church member at a church I visited introduced herself, then took me over to meet the pastor. After she spoke to him, I expected him to turn his attention from her to me, shake my hand, and say something like, "We're glad to have you today!"
Instead, he barely looked at me and didn't smile at all! He quickly mumbled something and walked away.
Perhaps he was distracted, preoccupied, stressed or feeling ill. Whatever the reason, though, he did not communicate warmth and openness at that moment.
You probably have experiences some kind of similar encounter in the past with someone who did not acknowledge or address you or perhaps with someone wearing a poker face or scowl. You felt awkward, unsure how to interpret their facial expression, at a loss as how to understand the situation.
Fact is, people require some degree of warmth and openness from another before they fully commit their trust. Building trust is the first big key to preventing conflicts before they start. So failing to communicate warmth and openness can lead to big problems!
To make matters worse, none of us can watch ourselves interact with others. We only know what’s in our head, the messages we intend to send. Yet, some communication experts believe 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and only 7% is the actual words spoken!
Think about the following six practices that, at least in American culture, communicate warmth and openness:
- Making eye contact
- Maintaining an open body posture
- Learning names and using them
- Showing genuine interest in other’s lives or activities.
- Using appropriate self-disclosure to let people know a little bit about you
Don’t underestimate the trust building power of those six simple habits!
Smiling and making eye contact says, “I’m happy to see you”. We all feel good when we believe someone is truly happy to see us.
Using a person's name and asking about a situation in his or her life says, "I see you. I am interested in you. I care enough to remember your situation."
Telling others a bit about ourselves communicates that we trust them enough to share. It lets them know that we are regular people with struggles and imperfections. This helps people feel safe because that means, "I don't have to pretend to be perfect when I am around you."
Which item on the trust building list could offer you room for improvement? Perhaps it would be helpful to ask someone you trust for some feedback!
My challenge: identify just one and make a concerted effort this week to consciously do that thing. Make a new habit.
Remember, although it must be genuine and sincere, communicating warmth and openness pays big dividends in building trust and preventing unnecessary conflicts.