5 Subtle Habits You Have That Make People Trust You

Updated: Jan. 19, 2021

Adding these science-backed tweaks to your daily interactions could help you gain the trust of your co-workers, friends, and even strangers.


You show empathy through apologies

Apologizing for something you can’t control may be illogical, but it can make you seem more trustworthy. Harvard researchers asked a young man to approach 65 strangers in a large train station on rainy days and ask to borrow a cell phone. Half the time, he started with the superfluous apology: “I’m so sorry about the rain!” before he asked, “Can I borrow your cell phone?” Only 9 percent of people who did not hear the superfluous apology gave him the phone. In comparison, 47 percent of those who received the superfluous apology did. Researchers say offering a superfluous apology portrays empathy and concern for the listener, which increase the listener’s trust in the speaker. Can you guess which are the most trusted brands in America? Click here to see the results of our exclusive survey.

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You mirror their body language

Are you a chameleon when you speak to someone? It may pay off. A study in the journal Academy of Management Proceedings found that when MBA students were asked to subtly mirror a partner in a negotiation exercise—for example, resting their elbow on the table if the other individual did—the two reached a deal 67 percent of the time. (The partners did not notice they were being mimicked.) Students who were told not to mirror only reached a deal 12.5 percent of the time. Researchers credit the negotiation successes to interpersonal trust, and say mimicry could help resolve disputes or assist mediators in being more effective.


You’re not afraid to be a little embarrassed

Blushing a little could benefit your relationships. In a University of California, Berkeley study, researchers showed participants a video of a man being told he received a perfect score on a test. Some participants saw the man respond with embarrassment, while others saw him respond with pride. When the participants played games to measure their trust with the man, those who had seen him respond in an embarrassed manner trusted him more. Researchers say embarrassment signals someone’s likelihood of being pro-social, which makes others want to associate with that individual more.


You have a welcoming scent

Have a lavender infuser in your home? It may make you seem more trustworthy. In a new Dutch study, 90 young adults were separated into three groups to play the Trust Game, a standard test of interpersonal trust. (Players receive a sum of money and must decide whether to keep it or transfer it to someone else. When participants transfer money, profits triple, but the trustee decides whether or not to share the profits with the trustor—a risk that requires trust). During the game, one group was exposed to no scent, the second group to peppermint, and the third to lavender. The lavender-sniffing group was significantly more willing to entrust money with someone else than the other groups. Researchers say the olfactory nerve (which affects smell) is connected to the part of the brain that controls how we trust others, and that lavender has a calming effect, whereas peppermint is stimulating. These are other ways aromatherapy can affect your health or mood.

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You have mutual friends

If you’re prone to making friends with other people’s friends, they’re more likely to count on you. It comes down to what’s called triadic closure, which is the concept that two individuals have a greater likelihood of being close when they have a common friend. When University of British Columbia students designed a program that randomly “friended” individuals on Facebook, they had greater success—a sign of increased trust— as the number of mutual friends with the stranger increased. Nearly 80 percent of people accepted the friend requests when there were 11 or more mutual friends involved, but only 20 percent of people accepted the requests when there were no mutual friends. These tips on making small talk can help you become an expert mingler.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest