Trust is at an all-time low around the world.
In fact, if you were to read some of the findings from Edelman’s trust barometer you might become depressed by the global lack of trust.
I’m not that much of a pessimist. In fact, I take the position of behavioural economist Dan Ariely, that we can find moments of trust in everyday interactions if we’re willing to look for it.
Despite this, we can’t ignore that today more than any time in history, our products and services are exposed to scrutiny, comparison, commodity and competition.
The speed of innovation, technology and a customer that needs to remain competitive just as much as us, has forced every business to raise the quality of their products and take serving their customers more seriously.
Unless businesses look for blue ocean strategies (offering something distinct, untapped and valuable to their market) they’ll be living in a red ocean fighting the same customer retention, margin and competition battles.
The more I study trust and the impact and power it has in healthy, profitable and accelerated relationships. The more I see it not being considered enough and used effectively.
What is trust?
Anne Böckler-Raettig, a psychologist at the University of Worstsburg, calls trust difficult, dynamic and indispensable.
The word trust has its origins in the Indo-European root droust meaning “solid” and “lasting.” In Old English, it referred to “confidence” and “dependence,” while in the 14th century Chaucer used the word trust to mean “virtual certainty and well-grounded hope.”
The old connotations of the word have preserved to the present day, where trust as we know it is an essential ingredient for thriving interpersonal relationships – from families to friends, to organizations.
How does trust show up in our everyday communication and engagement?
Building trust differentiates every relationship
Trust shows up in many powerful ways. It’s most evident in those moments where we might be overlooked for an opportunity by a close friend even if we know we could do a better job. How can we avoid that happening?
We have to activate trust in a new way.
Building trust activates greater differentiation in your relationships
It happens when who you are to your customer (your character, honesty, challenge, consistency, values and more) becomes something that impacts the way they integrate, communicate, share and create opportunity with you.
Differentiating your relationships is the underused competitive advantage because it’s the only place you have unrivalled access to your customers.
The best use of your time is not on selling but transforming the perception of who you are. It begins with how you cultivate TRUST.
The two levers for building TRUST everyone needs to learn
I want to introduce two unique and unspoken functions of how trust shows up practically and how you can build more trust for greater customer relationship success.
Only when you understand both can you deliver relational results that are repeatable and predictable to the benefit of you and your clients.
The first is trust criteria – What your client may need to see consistently to know you are someone who is trustworthy.
Trust Triggers – What you can activate based on the personal or corporate views and values of a client.
Let’s begin first with Trust criteria.
Understanding Trust Criteria
Trust criteria is founded on the understanding that we all make judgments about the people we work with in deciding how trustworthy or trusting they are.
After reading close to 50 different books and research papers on social psychology, ethics of trust, cultural trust, cultural behaviour and just plain old observation in business. It dawned on me that we look for these criteria intuitively all the time. There are common themes.
In fact, I believe there are seven universal trust criteria that every person regardless of age, culture, gender or otherwise looks for in trusting someone. Anything outside of this is contextual to the person’s experience, needs, emotion and position.
Examples of this can be found everywhere. Of course, there will be many other traits we can add. This is focused on what you can activate at any moment that does not necessarily require lots of time.
If you can understand these seven areas you’ll have a basis for building trust and meaningful relationships every time you connect with a client.
Seven universal trust behaviours (UTBs) for building trust
UTB 1: Empathy
Show genuine understanding
There has been a lot written on empathy but perhaps not always in the context of building trust. There are huge psychological and social implications for empathy that show up in our relationships for good and for bad.
Empathy in its simplest definition is our ability to understand and share the emotions of another. There are recognised types of empathy important to consider when we consider the criteria we all look for in trust.
Cognitive empathy -simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. Sometimes called perspective-taking, this kind of empathy can help in, say, a negotiation or in motivating people. A study at the University of Birmingham found, for example, that managers who are good at perspective-taking were able to move workers to give their best efforts.
Emotional empathy – when you feel physically along with the other person, as though their emotions were contagious. This is called emotional contagion, social neuroscience tells us, depends in large part on the mirror neuron system which helps us to read actions and intentions of others. (Check out Daniel Goleman’s book on Social Intelligence). Emotional empathy makes someone well-attuned to another person’s inner emotional world, a plus in any of a wide range of callings, from sales to nursing
Empathic concern – With this kind of empathy we not only understand a person’s predicament and feel with them, but are spontaneously moved to help, if needed. This is important because when helping someone in trouble you can’t afford to let emotional empathy overwhelm…
Action you can take
Study the power of emotional intelligence.
UTB 2: Competency
Here’s the truth. Competency is a hugely important component to building trust. We can’t get around the reality that as humans we are constantly making judgements of our environment, our thoughts and others.
When it comes to business our credibility and competence are always being considered. In the book ‘Speed of Trust’ by Stephen M R Covey he talks about the 13 behaviours of high trust leaders. Eight out of thirteen of those traits are competence-based.
When getting to the holy grail of great relationships in business you cannot ignore competence. This doesn’t make this more important than the other behaviours but it does show that this is more easily seen and consistent impressions count.
What is competency?
The dictionary says it’s someone’s ability to do a job properly. Which is inadequate. It is the sum total of someone’s knowledge, skills and attitudes. This is very important.
I’ll go even further and say:
Competence that becomes competency includes a set of defined behaviours that provide a structured guide enabling the identification, evaluation and development of the behaviours in an individual.
You need to know what those are for your expertise, solution and industry.
Action you can take
Consider the words value, challenge and advice. How you deliver these three things ultimately determines how irreplaceable you are. If in a business context relationships are driven by selectivity of interest (as social and equity theory suggest) then your ability to deliver value, challenge your clients respectfully and openly give personalised advice will be a key component to building trust and long term relationship success.
UTB 3: Respect
Raise other people
In most definitions respect is seen as:
A positive feeling or action shown towards someone or something considered important, or held in high esteem or regard; it conveys a sense of admiration for good or valuable qualities; and it is also the process of honouring someone by exhibiting care, concern, or consideration for their needs or feelings.
I like the frame of this because it illustrates the varying components of respect that is centred on the philosophy of giving respect first. Respect is a critical part of building trusted relationships.
Some people may earn the respect of individuals by assisting others or by playing important social roles. In many cultures, individuals are considered to be worthy of respect until they prove otherwise.
Respect happens in our micro-actions. Including simple words and phrases like “thank you”. In the West, simple physical gestures like a slight bow; in the East, a smile, or direct eye contact, or a simple handshake can have more impact than realised.
Let me offer an important and perhaps controversial statement. Respect is not earned first. It is first accepted of ourselves so we can give respect without judgement.
Action you can take
Acknowledge someone’s position and role. Place the person’s importance and their role to the goal you want to achieve together. Demonstrating your understanding of their position and ability activates the feeling of pride and respect in what they are doing.
UTB 4: Listen
Make others feel seen, heard and understood
Most of us know the impact of listening and the experience of not being listened to, but the question is how well do we listen? And how would we know?
Let me offer a way to think about listening that I’ve found helpful.
Connection and listening with anyone is about a sincere and present interaction that is unfiltered with self agenda.
This isn’t easy. By nature, we’re all self-interested and that includes me. We prepare for our meetings and calls with clients. When we arrive we’re constantly thinking and filtering through our own ideas and what we want to say.
How do we correct this? Among many different tips and techniques, there is one I really like that helps to put your mind at rest and focus on the other person. This can work if this is just a casual unplanned call or one that is more specific.
Action you can take
In the conversation or meeting to avoid going into your head or missing an important point.
Set yourself up for success. Simply say: “I really value our conversation would you mind if occasionally I took notes. Most people say yes.”
Now, after each natural pause, you can make a note then give attention again.
What this does is two things. It gives your brain an anchor to the pause so that you can focus on what is said and by writing down what has been said you’ve demonstrated care in what the other person has said. Very simple but powerful.
UTB 5: Honesty
Courage, vulnerability and transparency
We can all name people in our lives or publicly that violated the trust of honesty but deceiving, omitting and lying about something. This is probably the faster way to lose trust in any relationship and is a destructive force that is hard to mend.
Just ask many financial institutions, a spouse, a manager or colleague you know and so on.
Clinical Psychologist Lisa Firestone in a recent article in Psychology Today said:
“Honesty is a key component of a healthy relationship, not only because it helps us avoid harmful breaches of trust, but because it allows us to live in reality instead of fantasy and to share this reality with another.”
Being honest can be challenging because it can sometimes mean opening yourself up to being vulnerable. It might impact your career or relationship with a client.
For example. If a client asks you if a project will run on time and you know you’re already two weeks behind and you say ‘no problem’ and end up disappointing the client. That’s a big trust eroder.
Perhaps you need to tell a colleague or manager what they’re doing is wrong for theirs and the teams benefit.
Neither of these feel good to do in the moment. In the context of your client relationships demonstrating honesty shows integrity and commitment and care for the other persons benefit when done with the right intent.
How do you do honesty without eroding confidence or creating unwanted emotion?
Action you can take
This will largely depend on your relationship with the other person. You can bypass this by doing two things positioning and permission.
“In any conversation, relationship I value I want to give an honest answer because I believe it really helps everyone” then you ask permission “can I be honest here?”
I know you’re someone who values honesty… I know you’re someone who holds integrity and honesty high… Do we have permission to share openly?
This allows you to do two things. One it creates connection and shared platform. It also reduces resistance and creates a more open setting to hear what you’re about to say.
Of course, you need to give space for the other person to respond and have a genuine intent to benefit the other person. Using positioning and permission helps everyone to win.
UTB 6: Credibility
Consistency of your actions equals reputation
Warren Buffett was quoted in a speech saying: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and only five minutes to ruin it. When you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
I agree with that statement and would add. Whether you think so or not you currently have a reputation with someone.
You may not at all times be able to control it because people will have different experiences of you at different stages in your life, but you can influence it by choosing the discipline of consistency.
Credibility is your believability.
All the traits we’ve discussed already can be argued to be part of credibility. I want to focus on the aspect of consistency.
How do you demonstrate credibility in every interaction to build trust with your clients?
Action you can take
Make every effort to do what you say you’re going to do.
This means choosing what you agree to very carefully. Listen to your informal and formal promises.
Informal promises: are those sometimes throwaway lines like “I’ll definitely get back in a couple of days” which turns out to be a month.
Formal promises: could be a delivery expectation set to a date or a proposal you committed to send by the next afternoon.
“Do not say or write things you do not believe or can not commit to” Jordan Peterson
This is a wise saying and is not always easy because you also depend on other people to help you deliver. This is why it’s a discipline and not a technique.
Start today by paying attention to what you say and if you say it keep to it.
UTB 7: Safety
Give grace and space to others
In a popular article I wrote on LinkedIn around client leadership I talked about the importance of truth and grace.
We’re human and we’re going to mess things up. In the article, I tell the story of how I was truly angry at my colleagues for messing up a deal that cost me a lot in commission.
It ended up causing damaged relationships and my behaviour impacted the entire office. It was shameful. We did not have an environment where could talk about failure, disappointment and uncertainty in a healthy way.
How does this work in the context of trust?
At the heart of trust is safety. If someone does not feel like they’ll be safe to share something with you good or bad you will diminish trust. Your clients will disappoint you and you them. You may have times where they don’t want to answer your calls or emails.
In those moments we need to create a safe environment conducive to cultivate open conversation.
Action you can take
Among all the UTB’s that help for deepening and building trust the most, safety is arguably one of the most important. No relationship can grow without each feeling safe.
What potential areas of your client relationships today could be creating risk or feeling of being unsafe?
Could it be the fear of their reputation in not delivering something specific or the uncomfortable possibility of confrontation. How can you alleviate your customers’ concerns.
We’ve always said people do business with people they know, like and trust. Building trust is the strongest component of this.
What if every week you were to ask the question.
How can I work on deepening or building trust in my relationships this week?
How would that impact how you thought about your next conversation?
Building trust for a trusted partner relationship shouldn’t be a response to an obligation of what you should be it must be an intention of something you are or are becoming.
We must recognise that there are different levels of trust that determine how differentiated your relationship becomes.
Download my tool the Trust Continuum
Look out for part two on Trust triggers.
15 Trust Principles to Reshape Your Customer Relationships
Listen to part one of the Key Customer Growth Series where I talk about the 15 trust principles you need to reshape your customer relationships:
Infographic: 15 Trust Priniciples
Click on the image below to view an infographic summarising this article:
Your Customer Growth Guide