So what did I do? I did a lot of noncommittal smiling and nodding—interspersed with a few “Oh, reallys?” and “Mmm-hmms.” Just enough to let the conversation run its course without being rude. By interacting with the person mainly on a nonverbal level, I was able to show some interest and establish rapport. We both walked away from the encounter with our feelings on a relatively happy note. So what does this have to do with UX consulting? Quite a lot actually. As consultants, we often find ourselves delving deeper into areas we would not normally explore with people we don’t know well.
How to Build Trust Quickly, Even with Strangers
In the world of experience design, we talk a lot about empathy. Interacting with others helps us to correctly predict what design will help people to interact with a product or service. But, for all of our professional abilities, how often do we fail to carry our ability to interact with people over to our interactions with everyone else in our personal lives? Truth be told, whatever actions we take with friends, family, or even strangers can have a ripple effect throughout both our professional and personal worlds. When we are more mindful and pay attention to the details of our interactions, we are better able to understand an experience need and craft the right solution to meet it.
This is not just a feeling. There is plenty of research out there to back up the notion that our small gestures are important—not least in the area of building trust. Sometimes building trust takes just a smile and a nod. To understand this better, let’s take a look at what happens when you don’t make this effort. When writing about the psychological sting of rejection, psychologist Todd Kashdan  cited a research study by Kip Williams, on random and small interactions between people walking down the street. In this study, a researcher would essentially walk down the street and interact with complete strangers by doing one of three things:
- Quickly glancing in their direction
- Nodding and smiling at them
- Avoiding all eye contact and pretending they did not exist
Kashdan noted that, when people received no “acknowledgment from the stranger passing them,” they felt disconnected from not only that person, but started feeling disconnected from their larger context and society. What is really interesting about this is the fact that the person rejecting them was a complete stranger to them. Naturally, we feel a sense of rejection when a friend, a family member, or even a work colleague doesn’t interact with us. However, feeling this in response to a stranger is very interesting. In the world of User Experience, we so often design solutions for strangers. Even communities in which we may be involved or to which have a connection are filled with strangers with whom we need to interact to better understand the needs and desires of the larger community.
What this study illustrates is: experiencing feelings of rejection comes very easily to us and in response to very small triggers. Such triggers, while small, seem to have quite a large impact on us as human beings. In contrast, a small gesture such as a smile, a nod, or some eye contact could just as easily go a long way toward establishing rapport.