Building Trust in Initial Client Meetings
- by Peter Dean
Understanding the neuroscience behind first impressions can help you better interact with potential partners.
Neuroscience labs all over the world provide valuable knowledge about how we feel, think, act, and interact with others. Within neuroscience, which I believe will revolutionize leadership development agendas and the coaching of leaders, there is an understanding about an approach aiming to explain our subjective and interpersonal lives. It is called interdisciplinary neurobiology. This approach can be used to understand the neurobiological underpinnings of meeting with a potential client for the first time.
First it must be understood that impressions at work are critical for success and can be very subtle. We must learn to be more aware of the emotions people experience during our interaction with them. Signals of how well we are doing in a client meeting are communicated to us through our five senses and the amygdala in the brain. The amygdala, an almond-shaped structure in the limbic system on the inner surface of the temporal lobe, is considered the guardhouse of the brain. It acts as a gateway, assigning and attaching emotional significance to all experiences. If the amygdala identifies danger, it assigns the survival emotions of escape and avoidance. If it identifies a safe environment where there is trust, it assigns positive emotions to the interaction. Examples of survival emotions are fear, disgust and anger; a critical attachment emotion is trust.
Our feelings about a potential client and their feelings about us are the mix of these basic emotions. We want our clients to be comfortable with us and feel safe and secure with us from the moment we meet. If they feel a survival emotion emerge during the meeting, you can be sure they will experience a feeling of fright, fight, flight or freeze. If that happens, there is a good chance they will be unsure of you as a perspective partner.
What triggers survival emotions? It can be a stern and non-flexible facial expression. Poker faces are not welcomed here. Also, it could be overly physical gesturing, unwanted touching or back-slapping, and sudden movements. It could also be triggered from a harsh tone of voice, sudden expression of an emotion such as anger or frustration, and mumbling repetitive phrases like “I know.” It could also be the use of inappropriate language, including anything related to misogynistic, sexual, racial, unlawful, and unethical words. Body odor, bad breath, and too much perfume can be triggers as well.
However, if the client feels secure attachment emotions in an initial meeting, they will feel differently. Their bodies will release dopamine, which supports energy and motivation, promotes focus, and increases attention and mental clarity. Trust is critical and helps keep the exchange open and agreeable to you and what you bring. The chances of you being chosen as a client is much improved in this case.
Clearly, we have a short time to both make an impression and properly connect with a perspective client. Neuroscientists continue to work on understanding how chemicals play into the subtle experiences we have when we interact with others, especially the first time.