Last week, I attended the Human Synergistics conference on culture and leadership in Melbourne. One theme just kept on popping up in the stories shared by leaders of organisations that have demonstrated significant cultural shift towards constructive, engaged, productive cultures. Trust.
Trust building is essential to business success. As customers, we will not buy from brands we don’t trust. As employees, we will not follow leaders we don’t trust. As peers, we will not collaborate with colleagues we don’t trust. Without trust, there is no basis on which to form a relationship or buy into an opportunity. That is why the absence of trust, is the first dysfunction of a team in Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions model. Trust not only leads to better business outcomes, it also facilitates a whole host of positive results. According to a study in Harvard Business Review, people at high trust companies report 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, and 40% less burnout than people at low trust companies.
Trust goes both ways. To be trusted, we need to be trustworthy. We need to prove ourselves over multiple micro interactions; that we are true to our word and can be trusted. To earn and win trust is a privilege that I take very seriously. It’s got me thinking about how I build trust. As the sole operator in my own practice – my name is my brand. Building trust is how I transact. Most of my ongoing business is gained through referrals – the referral network is an endorsement of trust. No-one recommends someone they don’t trust (unless they’re actively being a jerk!!).
So instead of citing more research, I thought I’d share what I practically do to build trust and win business. For me, building trust starts with:
Transparency: Say what you mean. Avoid jargon. Australians especially do not tolerate bullSH1T bingo! Use plain language and speak your truth – both your thoughts and your feelings.
Reliability: Do what you say. Turn up on time. Follow through on promises. Be organised and only commit to doing what you know you can achieve. For me, this means I travel the night before a client engagement, so I’m not caught out if a flight is late. I log-in to online meetings 2-3mins before they start. I text ahead of time if I’m running late. I deliver the proposal / report / update on the day I say I will, or if I won’t – I let the client know when to expect it.
Credibility: Be transparent about your level of expertise or experience, don’t pretend you have more experience than you do. Know where your professional boundaries are and be honest about it. I am clear about letting clients know when I’m giving educated advice vs informed opinion. There’s a difference! It’s OK to try new things and learn into new areas of expertise – just let people know when you’re trying something for the first time.
Confidentiality: keep sensitive information confidential. Don’t gossip or talk negatively about someone behind their back – unless you plan on taking your challenges to them directly and in the right forum – not in a way that shames and blames them. Honour confidentiality and if you break it by accident – own up to it.
Intimacy: be vulnerable – share your emotions, acknowledge where you’ve made mistakes, where you’re still learning, feeling anxious or a bit unsure. This builds psychological safety where it’s OK to be human. I use this one often to build up openness in workshops and coaching sessions. We all make mistakes and being vulnerable opens the door for others to do the same.
Empathy: Step into their shoes. Walk around in them for a while. Seek to understand the others’ perspective – no matter how much you might disagree with it at first. Where a client shares an opinion I don’t agree with, I try and be curious. If I understand their perspective, I can have empathy for it and then I can tolerate and accept their viewpoint a little more. I don’t necessarily have to agree with someone or even like them, to respect them and work with them.
Trusting and being trustworthy builds up equity in relationships. This leads to lots of great outcomes – more opportunities reveal themselves, more ideas spring forth, and ultimately more deals are made. Trust is hard won and easily lost – but is never unrecoverable – it can always be earned back by recognising faults, owning mistakes, and listening with an open heart.