Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Trust is an unequal commodity in life. With some people, we give it unequivocally – to the surgeon that is about to operate on our heart, or to the bank that holds our money (actually, perhaps this one isn’t so strong). With others, it’s hard won, and we hold back giving trust until certain fundamentals are demonstrated.
“Trust me…” goes the saying, and in business, it’s something we regularly ask of our colleagues, our partners, our customers and our loved ones. We all say it and doubtless mean it, but how many people actually know how to practically go about building a foundation for trust? Until recently, I had no idea and, like most of us, assumed it was something intangible that grew as time passed. However, more and more I’ve been working with leaders that demonstrate it, and have highly developed approaches that boil down into four solid components that are applicable in any situation where trust between two individuals, teams or a person and an organisation is required.
The Complete Trust Model: relationship, honesty, humility and consistency
Where I use these four components of what I’ve termed the Complete Trust model the conversations always start with ‘which one’s the most important?’ This is a difficult one, as you’ll see; they are interdependent and taking one out breaks the cycle. However, I do think there’s one that we all regularly neglect – I’ll save that for last.
1. Investment in Relationships
The first element is Investment in Relationships – taking the time and making the effort to both be known by the other person and knowing about them in return. If you are asking someone for their trust then it’s only fair that they have a reasonable level of insight into the person doing the asking. Without this, it’s similar to a stranger wanting to borrow money from you.
Knowing about someone isn’t enough – you have to demonstrate this knowledge to them – even if it’s as simple as using their name. One CEO we work with gave himself the challenge of learning six people’s names a week to increase his levels of trust. When he used them, the results were amazing – people lit up and engaged with him more openly.
Secondly, there’s the need for a high level of Honesty – not pulling away from the tough conversations that people won’t want to hear. For some managers, the desire to be popular makes them avoid sharing negatives, which simply builds up mistrust, as people find out the information for themselves and question why it wasn’t shared. Honesty is also about saying when you got it wrong, not deflecting blame or spinning a story. This is really about making the truth a virtue for yourself.
Humility follows this, being able to put aside authority, position and status to both accept tough feedback and to be able to talk about personal failure without being defensive or evasive. The word actually means ‘from the earth’ – being humble is about re-grounding yourself on a firm standing, and stepping down from a position of power to ensure people see the human side of yourself. In one technology company we work with, the CEO has a communication route that’s labelled ‘Tell the CEO’ – it was changed from ‘Ask the CEO’, and has a huge influx of considered responses.
Finally, and what I think is the most neglected aspect, is Consistency. This mandates that what you do in the other three, you do repeatedly and in the same manner. So many people talk, particularly with regards to the Investment in Relationships element, of doing it ‘when they have the time’. As soon as you are inconsistent, people lose faith in you and trust is broken.
Consistency is about having the desire, focus and tools to implement long-term strategies with regards to people, information and yourself. It also dictates that you actively monitor your own behavior – identifying where you act inconsistently, let pride cloud the issue or fail to share the tough message, and challenge yourself to work on lessening or removing these instances.
These four apply to every interaction we have – customers that receive inconsistent service that treats them as a number quickly disappear. People working for a leader who never tells the truth about bad things will find other, more trusted leaders to work with. Trust even extends to the organization – companies that espouse new values every 12 – 18 months will struggle to build trust from their workforce.
My final, cautionary, note on trust is that it won’t necessarily make you liked – it’s what you put into those four elements that will do that, being consistently unpleasant does, in a perverse way, build trust – people will know that you’re always going to be like that. Getting the balance right involves working methodically within the four areas I’ve detailed and focusing on your personal style to ensure they are inclusive, equitable and mature.