Over recent months we have been engaged in debates about trust on many platforms. This has convinced me even more of the benefits of focusing on building trust in relationships.
On workshops, I often ask the question, “How can you build greater trust in your relationships?” The response is usually fairly predictable and comes down to doing what you say you’re going to do, telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth — and several similar ideas. Yet, I think we can go beyond this. Here are a few ideas…
- Say Thank You. If you value the current strength of the relationship and want to build it further, openly recognising it and thanking the others for playing their part in building a great relationship of trust can only help (provided you are sincere). For example, one director did this at the beginning of a meeting with his CEO. The scheduled 20-minute task-focused agenda was immediately ignored and they had a rich 90-minute debate about how to move forward the key projects he was working on.
- Demonstrate Your Trust. If you signal your trust in others, they are far more likely to reciprocate. And, vocalising clear criteria for your trust helps people to know what they need to do to gain more trust from you. For instance, “to be convinced about your commitment, I need to see you doing x” is one way to do this without saying, “I will only trust you if you do this”, which is a little crass. As well as clarity, it also sets the example for appropriate behaviour — they are more likely to reward you with the same high-integrity behaviour.
- Trust and Verify. Borrowed from Doug Conant, blind faith lacks credibility and begs the question, why are you so trusting? It’s okay to trust first, but it is prudent and respected practise to seek verification. This approach sets up open dialogue and does not mean saying you trust someone then sneaking around their back to verify! (Doug is the former CEO of the Campbell Soup Company (author of TouchPoints, which I highly recommend)
- Manage Expectations. Trust is about reliability or, at best, dependability. Therefore, if you say you’re going to do something, and then find you cannot deliver — talk to them, don’t leave them guessing.
- Defend Secrets. If you’re a trustable sort of person, you will know sensitive things about others. People will know that and may try to get information out of you. Instead of trying to dodge the request to protect someone’s secret, tell the person requesting the information, “no, that information was given to me in confidence.” Although unwelcome initially by the person making the request, in time they will learn to respect your stance and offer you more trust in return. Indeed, you will be proving that their secrets are safe with you. Clearly this denial needs to be delivered with care, especially if the request is coming from above. The message here is defend your confidants and grow in respect from all sides.
- Be Frank with Sensitivity. Don’t fudge the feedback. If you think something negative about another and it is in all of your interests to improve, say it as it is, but with care. You don’t have to be rude or insensitive, but being direct will be valued, even if in the short term it makes people uncomfortable.
- Make Serious Commitments. Rather than make promises on the fly, demonstrate that you are thinking seriously about making a commitment to someone. Show your workings and let them see how serious you are about keeping your promises. If something goes wrong later, managing expectations will also be easier if they know the challenges you are facing.
- Tackle Breaches. If someone lets you down, don’t just pass it off, tackle it head-on with sensitivity. Leaving it to fester will hurt in the long run. Explain what you expected, what you seemed to get, and hear their side too. Then agree future conduct for a great relationship.
- Demonstrate Understanding. If you can show how well you understand the other person, they are far more likely to think you care and, also, far more likely to place their trust in you. Acknowledging the inherent downsides for the other party from your proposals, ignoring it and hoping it goes away is not a high-trust approach. Unless they are convinced you understand, they will proceed with caution.
- Respect Reservations. There is a time and a place for every disclosure and unless they are personally ready, it is unwise to force it. Doing so will make the other party feel uncomfortable because it demonstrates (potentially) lack of care and interest in their welfare. Be realistic about what others can and should trust you with. We all have different tolerances, so just because you would feel comfortable sharing doesn’t mean someone else will.
- Be Prudently Open. Be as open as you can be. It is often wise to withhold, but this needs to be kept to a minimum. When you do withhold, taking the opportunity to explain why also helps. Avoid waiting for them to ask the right question and, in so doing, avoid the later accusation, “You could have told me that!” And this includes being open about your own vulnerabilities and worries. We all have them, and if you don’t share them (carefully), people may wonder what else you’re holding back.
- Segment Trust. You can trust someone with this but not that, and that’s okay. Being clear in your own mind helps unlock relationships and allows them to work more effectively. The statement, “I don’t trust Jo” is not only unhelpful, but it is also a sweeping generalisation. Just because you don’t trust someone in one area shouldn’t mean you distrust them completely.
- Be Realistic. Everyone has their limits and boundaries. Someone may be entirely predictable in most circumstances; but, at the extreme, they will probably look after number one. Being threatened with dismissal may be too compelling to protect your secrets when there is a mortgage to pay!
Some of these are more difficult than others, and most of these ideas require practice and careful execution. Yet, if you invest in these behaviours, over the long term you will accumulate an enviable reputation and maximise the value of your relationships.
Colin Gautrey is an author, coach, and trainer who specialises in the practical use of power and influence in large organisations. He has 25 years’ experience helping middle/senior professionals to survive, thrive and enjoy their work.
If you are ready to develop your influencing capability, become a member of Breakthrough Influence. If you are serious about becoming highly influential, fast, engage with Colin and he will help you get there in the most effective way possible.
Other articles by Colin:
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