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Creating Brain Trust and Rapidly Building Rapport

It takes only 3 seconds to create a first impression. Learn steps to create trust and build rapport.

The First Three Seconds

When your brain notices anything new – including a
person – in the environment, it is programmed to decide quickly whether
or not it’s a threat. It takes only 1/24th of a second to create this
first impression at the unconscious level. At 3 seconds, that first
impression is established and unlikely to undergo further significant
change. If the first impression someone has of you is perceived as a
threat, any possibility of establishing rapport is lost. The threat
does not have to be real, it only requires a “perception” of a threat –
and when in doubt, your brain tends to perceive a threat.

The Gatekeeper

Bruno Catellani of the Institute of
Communication, Management and Sales
in Switzerland refers to
this primitive brain function as the “Gatekeeper”. If your initial
interaction with someone stresses that person’s Gatekeeper, it will
switch on the “fight or flight” response that includes shutting down
message receptors and terminating any meaningful rapport with that

This neurological mechanism was necessary during our
evolutionary development – in order to survive as a species, when our
cave-dwelling ancestors saw a saber-toothed tiger they needed to react
with lightening speed. Although for the most part we have outgrown the
need for such a rapid response to perceived threats, it is still a
response that is hardwired in our brains and is the main obstacle to
building rapport with others. So remember when someone first becomes
aware of you, in business or in any environment, you have less than 3
seconds to make a positive, nonthreatening impression.

Tips for Rapidly Building Rapport

So how do you get past this neurological Gatekeeper
and build rapport with others? The opposite of a threat is trust – if
you’re trusted you can’t be a threat. Therefore, create the conditions
for trust and you will prevent anyone from perceiving you as a threat,
which will allow you to build rapport. Remember, you have less than 3
seconds to make a first impression and get past the brain’s

Here are a few tips to help you rapidly
create neurological trust and build rapport with

  • You should smile. Nothing disarms a perceived
    threat as much as a smile. Even if your first contact is via the phone,
    smile – it will be reflected in your voice and overall attitude. (I
    have a mirror by my office phone so I can make sure I am smiling when
    I’m on the phone.)
  • Your body language – translated by your movements,
    gestures, facial expression and eye contact – should be open, friendly,
    relaxed and your posture reflects enthusiasm. Again, even when using
    the phone your body language is subtlety reflected in your voice and
    breathing. (I actually stand up and use a positive body posture at
    least during the initial part of a phone interaction.)
  • Your voice modulation and tone should be calm and
    the speed of your speech should be steady and not too fast. By the way,
    as Professor Albert Mehrabian of UCLA has documented, the importance of
    the actual words that you use are minor compared to the importance of
    your body language, tone of voice, etc. – the brain’s Gatekeeper
    usually has decided whether or not to treat you as a threat before the
    brain can comprehend the meaning of your words.
  • Your clothes and overall appearance should be
    appropriate for the situation. For example, if you run a childcare
    center, multiple facial piercings probably will not build trust with
    parents. However, if you run a tattoo parlor maybe multiple piercings
    are appropriate.
  • You should smell good – or at least don’t smell
    bad. Interestingly, olfactory inputs (smells) are processed by the
    brain more quickly than inputs from any other senses. Very often it is
    an unconscious smell that first causes someone’s brain to determine
    whether to treat you as a threat. By the way guys, research shows most
    women perceive a man who uses too much cologne or aftershave as
  • You should not invade the other’s personal space.
    At the same time, you should not be too far away – too much physical
    distance creates an emotional distance. However, when in doubt, give
    the other person space.

Once you have impressed upon the other person’s brain
that you can be trusted, you can easily and comfortably build a genuine
rapport that will be beneficial to both of you.

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