If we want to take our team to the next level, boost our leadership skills, create new sustainable business opportunities or lead a more pleasant personal life, paying attention to relationships and interactions with people is mandatory. Concretely, trust plays a key role because it shapes and affects how we collaborate to achieve common goals. Furthermore, one of the fundamental pillars of trust is reciprocity: you trust me, I trust you. I can make an effort to trust others, but, what can I do so other people trust in me more?
Before deeping on that question, I would like to make a special mention and recommendation of “The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook”, from which I extracted the core ideas I’ll talk about now. I recommend you to give it an opportunity because it’s easy to read and contains very useful information and interesting examples. In my case, it served me to better understand what’s behind trust and to make self-awareness exercises to improve my relationships with people around me.
The trust formula
Trust may seem something abstract, or even difficult to measure, so let’s see a formula which will help us to better understand which factors contribute to create trust:
What this formula tells us is that our ability to make other people trust us depends on our credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-orientation. Improving our credibility, reliability and ability to intimate makes it easier for other people to trust us but self-oriented attitudes takes us to the opposite side.
This formula may seem very simple but it constitutes a very powerful tool to understand people’s trustworthiness abilities and look for new improvement opportunities. Let’s talk now a bit more about each of these factors.
It has to do with our knowledge and how we communicate it to other people.
The most obvious way to improve our credibility is to increase our knowledge and experience.
But there are other uncommon ways to boost our credibility such as:
- Stating our points of view when we have them, instead of saving them because of insecurities or fear to “what will they think”. By doing this we will demonstrate that we have nothing to hide and that we are open to expose our arguments to learn jointly.
- Being able to say “I don’t know”. There is a common fear to ignorance and that leads to a sense of “I have to know about everything”. We are human, we have limitations and we make mistakes. It’s normal and it’s important to internalize it. Only by doing this we will be able to create new learning opportunities and feel more comfortable in our interactions with other people.
- Showing passion also makes our listener feel more comfortable about what we are talking about. There is no better person to learn and tackle with something than someone passionate about it.
- Firmly communicating our knowledge will also make our listener feel more secure, but being careful about not becoming arrogant.
This capacity has to do with our actions and is rooted on consistency and predictability. It is: to ensure that other people know what to expect from us, that we are reliable and that they won’t find unpleasant and unexpected surprises.
We can improve our reliability with some actions like:
- Setting our commitments’ expectations upfront and reporting regularly. Beware: I’m not talking about opening the door to micromanagement but to proactively inform to avoid unexpected situations for other people.
- Making lots of small commitments and consistently accomplishing them. It will help other people to see that we accomplish what we say we’ll do. It’s one of the easiest exercises because it’s very easy to translate day-to-day activities into small commitments.
- When we fail or we don’t accomplish what was expected of us, communicating it openly, sincerely and taking responsibility of what happened.
It relates to the safety you feel when entrusting someone with something.
The initial fear and risk to start a relationship and generate trust is usually shown in this variable, which turns it into a key pillar. Despite being so important, intimacy is still a shocking word in the traditional business world, which is a shame because it constitutes a very important booster to create healthy relationships. We are expected to be “professional” with our clients, providers and even our organization members, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot be human and intimate.
Among the most usual ways to boost our ability to intimate we find:
- Empathic listening. Listening is easy. Listening with empathy is a different story. We’ll get deeper on this topic in a different post but for now it’s enough to stay with the idea of “really” listening to our partner, paying attention and interest to what they say, trying to really understand his arguments and point of view, paying attention to the emotional signs they send us, etc.
- Expressing our feelings openly. We are human, not robots. We have both a rational and an emotional side. Our conversations take place in both areas but sticking only to the rational one limits our capacity to intimate. Sometimes it’s more useful to show joy, emotion or passion than to provide a striking number.
- Using your partner’s name during the conversation may also help to get you closer to them. It’s important not to abuse from this tip or be especially careful if it makes our partner feel uncomfortable.
- Sharing personal information, as well as emotions, also makes us more human.
It’s about focusing on us instead other people.
Self-oriented attitudes create a perception of someone who “first looks for themself” and reduce our trustworthiness. The good news is that this variable offers great room for improvement.
There are a lot of common situations where we act in a self-oriented way, even without realizing it, like when we rush to a solution, without listening our partners; or when we talk too much without letting other people expose their arguments; or even when, subtly, we look for attention and recognition. Another example from the business world is the “stereotypical car salesman”, whose objective is to focus all actions towards the sale, but who doesn’t really focus on the client real needs.
Self-awareness, aside from the external feedback, is one of the most important tools to reduce our self-orientation. It is: our ability to see ourselves from an external point of view and evaluate how we act and how we relate with our environment. If we are not aware of how we behave, we won’t be able to change.
Some ways to reduce our self-oriented attitudes are:
- Sharing our time, resources and ideas with others. Let them see that we are here to collaborate, that our time and resources are as important as theirs and that we are willing to share them.
- Asking questions from real curiosity during conversations. It helps to show real interest about what our partner is telling us, even when that concrete conversation is not our final goal, and we let our partner to talk freely instead redirecting the conversation to our goal.
- Aiming for win-win alternatives in all our deals and decisions so both sides get benefit from them.
- Speaking hard truths. It’s usually difficult to and puts you in a delicate situation because you are the “bad news bearer”. However, it’s a fantastic exercise to reduce self-orientation because it prioritizes the common good in front of your personal fear of being rejected for bringing bad news. Furthermore, it also increases our reliability: if someone is capable of communicating bad news when they must, we can be sure that they won’t hide information from us.
- We usually look for credit for our actions and achievements but it’s also important to give it to other people when possible.
And how can I use the trust formula?
To behave in a trustworthy way and improve our ability to make other people trust us we must train our credibility, reliability and willingness to intimate at the same time that we look for ways to reduce our self-oriented attitudes.
Usually people focus on improving their credibility and reliability because they are the variables which seem easier to work with. However, intimacy and self-orientation constitute the two biggest levers to improve your trustworthiness. Even so, we shouldn’t forget that the most important is the balance among these four factors.
I want to share a personal experience applying this knowledge. One of the first improvement opportunities I found after doing a first self-awareness exercise was that, sometimes, I interrupted (or I internally wanted to) some conversations if I felt that they were taking too long to get to a conclusion. It’s like I feel that I “went ahead” on the conversation and that I had to accelerate it to get to the conclusion and save time. My mistake. What did “I went ahead” mean? Did that mean that I had all the answers and I knew the best solution? Was it worth saving time by interrupting the conversation and avoiding other people stating their opinions? Absolutely not.
Nowadays, and despite it’s true that changing behaviour is a hard task, I’m still working on this aspect because learning to listen is essential. There isn’t a single way to a solution and not listening to other people suppresses my options to see other alternatives which I may have not considered. Furthermore, with the additional benefit that listening makes it easier for people to trust and work with you because you are really looking for synergy and collaboration.
As a self-awareness exercise, I propose you to pay special attention to how you talk and interact with other people during an entire day. You will find new details about yourselves and improvement opportunities which you may have missed until now.
I hope you enjoyed this brief introduction to those factors which affect trust. I also encourage you to share your thoughts or day-to-day situations where you have seen yourselves reflected.