How can scientists build trust?
“People form or make decisions about complex-science related issues by how much they trust the authority of the scientist or group of scientists,” says a recent White Paper published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Yet a recent survey done by the Ontario Science Centre shows a third of Canadians believe “science can’t be trusted since it is always subject to change.”
So why do Canadians have so little faith in science? Perhaps in part, you can blame the media?
- 79% believe the media is damaging the public’s perception of science
- 59% believe scientific news is presented to support a political position
- 68% of Canadians believe scientific news is reported selectively, to support media objectives
- 30% say they don’t have the ability to follow science reports in the media – not surprising considering
- 33% of Canadians consider themselves “scientifically illiterate” (30% of men and 43% of women).
This trust breakdown has serious consequences because our future health, prosperity, and security all depend on decisions based on science.
Studies show that building trust using effective communication skills is the strongest predicator to positive opinions about scientific topics, especially contested ones.
So what can scientists do to start regaining trust?
The answer matters, because as science’s dependency on complexity increases, so too must trust.
In PR Associates’ Science of Communication ™ workshop, we teach interpersonal communication, presentation, media and conflict management skills that help scientists develop effective communication skills and building trust starts with first impressions.
The seven-second rule applies. Everyone knows how important first impressions are so here are a few tips to get your conversation, presentation or interview off to a good start.
Facial expression is important when it comes to making a good impression. Make sure you don’t have a false, cheesy grimace slapped across your face—your audience will know its fake and masking nerves, arrogance and nonchalance. Instead, go for ‘I am a great person who you would love to chat with’ and come across as warm and outgoing. Your audience needs to spend the first three seconds thinking you are confident and professional which is achieved with a smile.
Introduce yourself, not your credentials
People trust others who are just like them the most. So why not introduce yourself by telling a story about what attracted you to science. You’ll be surprised by how much trust can be built by showing eager enthusiasm for your chosen career, rather than trying to establish your credibility through your impressive credentials. If people don’t trust you first, your impressive credentials are useless.
Making a good first impression means you need to “fit in” to some degree. But it doesn’t mean pretending to be someone you’re not. The best way to create a good impression is by being your authentic self. Doing this will make you feel more confident, help you to build trust and earn the respect and integrity from your audience.
There’s little point introducing yourself if no one can understand what you’re saying. Speaking confidently—its been found that people will take you more seriously.
Maintain eye contact
I once heard a joke about engineers. How can you spot the extrovert? The answer, he’s the one looking at your shoes and not his own. Couldn’t be closer to the truth. People perceive you as shifty, nervous or rude when you don’t make eye contact. Therefore, to make a good impression make sure your eyes lock with the person you are talking with or your audience. Don’t stare or be creepy about it, but hold the gaze at least three seconds at a time.
Appearance is as important as body language, so you need your appearance to be fitting for the occasion.
It’s a lot to remember and put in to practice but it will be over before you know it – in seven seconds to be exact. So smile, speak clearly and look smart to create a good first impression and start building trust.