The Power of Building Trust

Human beings don’t naturally trust one another. You can blame our brains for that. Your brain makes unconscious decisions regarding trust on your behalf and you can’t force your brain to trust.

Yet we hear people say all the time that they automatically trust everyone they meet – until the day they get betrayed. But what they really mean by this is that they are willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt, which is very different than trusting someone.

Of course, when we develop trust, great things can result. Consider Stephen M.R. Covey’s book, The Speed of Trust, in which he describes how trust eliminates the costs associated with relationships while increasing the speed and efficiency of how things get done. If you trust someone, for instance, you’ll spend far less time worrying about whether that person is going to do what he or she said they would. That, in turn, will save you tons of anxiety and wasted time in checking up on them and formulating contingency plans.

But, as we noted earlier, building trust isn’t easy. Our brains aren’t easily fooled. You cannot simply say, “Just trust me.” Trust results from patterns of behavior. If you work with someone who operates with integrity – someone who does what they say they will or cleans up the mess when they don’t – then you will begin to trust that person. They begin to create value for you, which makes them a valuable resource for you because you’re saving on all that wasted energy created when you’re anxious.

Think about an example involving, say, where you need to hire a real estate broker to complete a transaction for you. Only, the person with the skills you need is someone you just met. If your brain hasn’t already developed a pattern of trust for that person, you’ll spend a lot of time and energy worrying about whether the broker is going to get the job done in a way you need them to.

On the other hand, if you were working with a broker you did trust, you’d be saving all that wasted time and energy.

You can even think about trust in terms of a formula where:

Comfort (or the lack of anxiety) = competence (one’s proficiency) multiplied by confidence (a belief on say, a scale of 1 to 10, that the job will get done). You can then divide that by the absolute value of the impact on your life.

While the result is admittedly measured on a subjective scale, the key takeaway here is to understand the relationship between these different indicators. The more confident you are in someone, for example, the more comfortable you will be. At the same time, if the stakes of the situation are extremely high – say, you face the possibility of going to jail – then your anxiety level will be high no matter how much you trust your lawyer. Similarly, if you tell me that you’re losing sleep because the IRS contacted you about some missing 1099 filings, I could lessen your anxiety simply by letting you know that the stakes might be far less that you originally thought. If I were to tell you that the worst-case scenario was that you would have to pay a $150 fine, wouldn’t that completely change the equation for you?

It all comes down to how you perceive these three factors relative to any given relationship you have and how they interact with each other. Basically, your brain will perform a calculation with these three indicators before it decides if it will trust someone.

On the flip side, we can use this same equation as a way to inform us about how we can make other people feel more confident and less anxious when it comes to working with us.

For example, I have had project managers lament to me in the past that their customer doesn’t trust them. But my retort is always, “It’s not their job to trust you. Rather, have you trained them to trust you?”

Let’s say you are working with a new customer, someone you don’t have a history of working with. So you know they can’t trust you yet, though, based on your contract, that they have given you the benefit of the doubt. A good way to build trust from that foundation is to establish a pattern with that customer of doing what you say you’re going to. That could be as simple as giving them a status update every day at the same time. You can also send them a note reminding them that you sent them the status like you said you would. Just those simple behaviors will begin to establish a pattern in your customer’s brain that allows them to trust you.

It’s the little things that help sow the seeds of trust and begin to develop patterns. That’s how you can help train your customer’s brain that you are indeed trustworthy.

This also illustrates that you also need to be careful in how you talk about your competency around your customers. If you ask your plumber to look at a problem, and he scratches his head and says he’s never seen anything like that before, you aren’t likely going to trust that he’s capable of fixing the issue. If, instead, he said something subtly different like, “Well, that’s interesting,” you could arrive at a very different result. At the very least it’s a big indicator they he isn’t confident in tackling the job – which isn’t a great way to start building trust in your brain.

The point is that the more trustworthy you become, the more valuable you are to your customers, friends, family members, and beyond. It’s amazing that once you establish trust with someone, how eagerly they will go to bat on your behalf to take on your doubters. People will passionately advocate for you when they trust you – which is an incredibly powerful ally to have.




Posted in Responsibility, Value

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