Five Misconceptions about Trust in Business: Part 3

In this blog series, we explore five of the most common misconceptions about trust that, while they are widely-held, are powerful inhibitors to creating real trust:

  1. Trust has to be earned
  2. Trust takes time to grow and is quickly lost
  3. Clients just want you to solve their problem
  4. Clients will trust you if you give good advice
  5. Having the right answer is critical

Two wooden figures with the image of the brain and heart.MISCONCEPTION 3: CLIENTS JUST WANT YOU TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM

Most providers think that clients are focused on solving the problem. No surprise there—most clients would say the same thing. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Of course, clients want providers to solve problems. That’s what they are paying for, after all. But if ALL you are giving the client is what they are paying for, you need to be incredibly better than anyone else to avoid constantly competing on price. And that’s incredibly hard to do.

Clients don’t seek to trust providers’ expertise …

… they seek experts they can trust.

Clients don’t want to be experts in the provider’s field. If they did, they’d have gotten their own degree or certification. They also know they will need that expertise again in the future. What they would really love to have, if only they could be so fortunate, is confidence in an expert on whom they could then rely repeatedly.

Most providers try to create trust by demonstrating, or at least talking about, their expertise. Clients therefore assume that their expertise is the most important thing they can offer. The implicit message is, “you can trust me to take care of this problem.”

Yes, clients hire you to solve the problem …

… but what they really want is for you to care about them.

If you focus solely on your expertise and successfully solve the problem, then your client will learn to trust your expertise, but what about everything else?

The alternative is to focus less on the problem, and more on the person. That’s not to say you should perform poorly, but that you should also show your client there’s more to you than you’re your expertise.

Real trust comes from understanding your client as a person – through curiosity, empathy, and your willingness to be vulnerable with them.

Real trust comes from caring enough about your client to share what you see can help them succeed.

Real trust comes not from solving this problem, but from helping them see the next opportunity or potential issue, whether or not you can help them with it.

Clients’ main vehicle for assessing trust is your ability to address the issues facing them, head-on, with all its emotional complexities. The beauty of that is, it’s what you already do for a living anyway.

Come back here to read about misconception 4: Clients will trust you if you give good advice.

Resources to Build Your Trust Skills:

How to Get Clients to Take Your Advice (Quickly and Willingly)

There are seemingly endless reasons our clients do not take our advice. Challenges like internal disagreements, budget constraints, and rotating decision-makers can cause countless proposals to be refused or ignored, regardless of how obvious the need may appear.

While clients may say they are hesitant to rely too heavily on vendor advice, have had negative past experiences, or even claim we lack understanding of the situation, all of these excuses may point to an overall lack of trust that can keep clients from believing your recommendation is the best solution.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, expertise is not the key to getting your advice heard and taken.

Getting clients to take your advice requires credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation, and while most of us are quick to emphasize the credibility and reliability of our solutions, we tend to overlook the importance of intimacy and self-orientation.

No matter how good your advice may be, your solutions are not the cornerstone of the relationship. Your client’s needs are.

And the key to understanding your client’s needs is effective communication. Here’s how to get there from here.

Listen to Show Empathy and Understanding

No matter the industry or your client’s role in the company, it is essential to recognize that most professionals are more knowledgeable than ever. With ever more information and solutions accessible in moments via the internet, an advisor’s value as an information provider is practically obsolete.

While our clients may hire us for our expertise, they also bring their own expertise to the table. And they want to know that you recognize what they bring and what’s at stake for them. Actively listening – to their feelings, emotions, needs, and preferences in addition to the problem they have – allows them to feel heard and understood.

Ask more and better questions about their goals, concerns, and challenges to show you are genuinely there to help provide real solutions that will contribute to their success. Emotional intelligence and listening skills demonstrate empathy, respect, and support that will enable them to overcome their fears and doubts, making them more likely to trust and act on your recommendations.

Focus on What It Means for Them

When providing in-depth solutions, beware of defaulting to showing off how much you know.

Instead, phrase your advice confidently by focusing on your client’s needs to:

  • Clarify complex concepts by using simpler, more straightforward ideas.
  • Make your advice easy to implement by breaking it down into smaller steps that can lead to gradual improvement.
  • Provide practical guidelines for proceeding with the next steps.
  • Be humble and willing to pivot the approach if/when their needs change.

Finally, anticipate, acknowledge, and address any concerns, doubts, or objections your clients might have, and give them space and time to think through your advice.

They will perceive greater value in your advice when the rationale behind your recommendations aligns with their goals and contributes to their success over time.

Provide Evidence to Support Your Advice

To communicate how your advice aligns with your client’s goals and needs, show evidence of how your recommendations can impact their performance, profitability, or reputation.

Share success stories, case studies, and client testimonials to illustrate your points and make them more relatable while demonstrating other positive outcomes that bolster credibility and help clients recognize potential benefits.

While charts and graphs can enhance understanding and make your advice more compelling, sharing real-life stories of how others have benefited from similar advice can inspire and encourage your clients to act.

Involve Your Clients in the Process

When developing and implementing recommendations for clients, it’s easy to forget that they also know what they are doing. After all, it’s their business. Show your clients that you value their experience and work as a partner, not an authority.

Involving them in the process, seeking their input and feedback, and incorporating their suggestions and preferences can increase their ownership and commitment to the solution and address any issues or objections in real time.

This ongoing engagement reinforces your commitment and helps overcome potential roadblocks while recognizing and celebrating the positive outcomes.

Reinforcing the value of your recommendations and encouraging future cooperation begins with effective communication, empathy, and understanding. Trustworthy relationships deliver value and increase clients’ likelihood of embracing your recommendations sooner and more efficiently.

At the end of the day, being right only matters if you’re being heard.

Trust-Based Resources to Maximize Your Team’s Potential:


Trust at the Car Dealership

I just bought a car.

The last time I bought a car from a dealer was over 20 years ago, and it was a horrendous experience. Based on that experience, I never would have expected to use car buying as a positive example of trust. But the salesman I met last month, Frankie at CarMax, makes this experience worth noting.

I’m not stumping for CarMax (no commissions here). I AM, however, stumping for the sales approach their business model fosters.

If you are unfamiliar with the company, CarMax is a predominantly online car buying service with a “no haggle” policy. That means that the price you see online for a particular car is the price you pay (plus taxes and fees). I hate haggling, so this seemed like a good start.

But it turns out that being freed from the fear of haggling was only the beginning of what made this a good (dare I say enjoyable?) experience. Things really got special when I went to take a test drive and met Frankie.

My Car-Buying Experience

From the moment I walked into the dealership, Frankie was nothing short of helpful, and there was NO PRESSURE. We talked about my old car and what I liked about it. He shared his own knowledge and experience with the car I was considering and suggested some specific features to try out on the test drive. And when I pointed out a few minor things that needed to be fixed, he had the team investigating before I even left the dealership.

After the test drive, Frankie followed up – with NO PRESSURE. He reached out to give me answers to questions I had asked, gather more information, and update me on status. He never asked me to buy the car, pressured me to decide before I was ready, or pushed to upsell add-ons (although he did provide information about additional options).

When I was traveling, and a week went by without getting him a decision, Frankie called to check in – with NO PRESSURE. He just wanted to be sure I had everything I needed from them, and he assured me the car was waiting for when I was ready to buy.

I bought the car.

I chalk up the good experience I had to a model that works for anyone trying to grow their business: a combination of the virtues and values of trust. The virtues of trust are personal behaviors that demonstrate trustworthiness, described in the Trust Equation. The values of trust create an environment where people can trust and be trusted, described in the Four Trust Principles.

The Virtues of Trust in Action

  1. CREDIBILITY: Frankie displayed a series of sales awards on his desk, progressing to Platinum Sales status last year, and he navigated the process effortlessly. He shared his knowledge about specific features of the car I was looking at. He had sales experience and knowledge about the product in which I was interested.
  2. RELIABILITY: Frankie stayed in touch after the test drive, giving me status updates on the few things I had asked to fix: what the issue was (a bad sensor), how they would repair it, and when it would be ready. He communicated via email, text and phone calls, depending on the information (status updates were texts, phone calls for information he needed, and email for documents). When there was a schedule hiccup during the final purchase, Frankie got it smoothed out in minutes. I knew I could depend on Frankie.
  3. INTIMACY: Frankie laid the foundation for intimacy in about 10 minutes. He didn’t ask me private questions that were irrelevant to my reason for being there, like what I do for a living. He did ask me questions about why I wanted a new car, what I drove before, what I liked about my old car, and why this model appealed to me. He called me by name every time we spoke, and he was friendly with me and with his colleagues in front of me. He used his cell phone to reach out and told me to call with any questions. Most importantly, he shared in my excitement about the car I wanted. I felt like Frankie got where I was coming from, and I felt safe buying a car from him.
  4. SELF-ORIENTATION: Frankie was completely focused on me and what I wanted during the whole experience. He let me make the decision on my schedule. He offered to discuss financing options, then dropped it when I said I had my own plan (he would have got a commission if I financed through them). Same with the extended warranty (also foregoing commission). He had the few things I identified during the test drive fixed, before I committed to buying the car. He was transparent about everything, including the fact that I could trade-in my old car, but might get a better deal for it another way.

The Values of Trust

Frankie had great trust-building skills, but he also has the benefit of working for a company that commits to a certain type of customer experience. CarMax enabled Frankie’s trustworthy behavior by embracing the Four Trust Principles:

FOCUS ON THE CLIENT: CarMax was founded on the goal to make the process of buying and selling used cars more accessible. They have an extensive inventory that they will move around the country (for a reasonable transport fee). I read online that their commissions are based on unit, not unit cost, so there’s no conflict for a salesperson to upsell to a different vehicle or push add-ons.

COLLABORATION: Their multi-channel approach allows the consumer to conduct most of the process online, or all of it in-person at the dealer, or just about any combination. They have decision-making tools available online and offer many services to keep the process efficient. They offer financing and extended warranties and partner with third-party providers (like Sirius/XM) to optimize the car-buying experience.

MEDIUM- TO LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP PERSPECTIVE: After the sale, I got an email from CarMax recommending that I register my car with the manufacturer and download the CarMax app “to get discounts, find safety recall info from NHTSA, and more!.” The email included a reminder of their 30-day/1,500-mile return policy.

TRANSPARENCY: Online listings include LOTS of photos of the actual car, features and specs, vehicle history (ownership, accident/damage, odometer) and any work they’ve done on the car to meet CarMax quality standards. In the dealership, the sales stations are set up with two monitors: the monitor the salesperson is using, facing them, and a second monitor facing the customer that mirrors what the salesperson is seeing. When Frankie said he was looking something up, he really was.

Trust-Based Selling

It’s no myth that people prefer to buy from people they trust. The purpose of trust-based selling is not to sell your product or service, but to help the buyer do what’s right for them.

A few minutes into our first conversation, I jokingly asked Frankie when the “hard sell” would kick in. He laughed and said that’s why he likes working at CarMax. He doesn’t feel pressured to pressure customers, so he can just enjoy helping people find the car that is right for them.

The paradox of trust-based selling is that, when you stop selling, you’ll get more sales.

If you’re in the market for a used car in northern Virginia, look up Frankie at Potomac Mills CarMax. Tell him Noelle Mykolenko says hello.


When Focus Becomes Tunnel Vision

Let’s talk about focus.

Many respected authors will tell you that focus is essential to achieving success. They call it concentration, determination, single-mindedness, resolve – whatever the word, the message is that by focusing on the outcome you want, you are more likely to make it happen.

And it seems hard to argue that being focused is anything but good. It improves the quality of our work, increases efficiency, and contributes to momentum. Focus can help clarify priorities, improve decision making, and reduce stress.

But when we get too focused, we risk getting tunnel vision.

Tunnel vision arises as a medical condition when someone loses peripheral vision, limiting their sight to only what is directly in front of them.

Metaphorically, it means concentrating completely on achieving a particular aim, without regard for anything or anyone else. It limits our ability to see and hear what is important to others. It is the height of self-interest.

Adam Smith, Competition, and Selling

Blame it on Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. The Scottish moral philosopher and economist famously claimed that by the self-oriented struggling of the butcher and the baker, the “invisible hand” of the market makes itself known by balancing out all for the greater good. Out of individual self-interest grows the maximum collective good.

While Smith has been unfairly characterized as arguing against regulation and in favor of unfettered free markets, there’s no question that his powerful formulation rhymes with competition – individuals seeking their own betterment.

Taken at face value, Smith’s primary hypothesis that the collective good grows as a result of individual self-interest defies logic. The deeper context is that individuals specialize to create income-generating goods and services, and in so specializing will pay others for the goods and services they cannot (or choose not to) create themselves.

If only one person (or company) made each thing anyone needed, there would be no competition. But we have long ago demonstrated that monopolies are an economic danger. So we have an economy that is driven by choice – and, so it follows, by competition.

Selling without Competition

It’s hard for most people to even conceive of selling without that competitive aspect between buyer and seller. Isn’t the whole point to get the sale? Isn’t closing the end of the sales process? If a competitor got the job, wouldn’t that be a loss? And why would you spend time on a “prospect” if the odds looked too low for a sale?

When we think this way, we spend an awful lot of energy. It’s hard work – most of it spent trying to persuade customers to do what we (sellers) want them to do. This is never easy (if you have a teenager and/or a spouse, you know this well).

The competitive approach is the traditional, zero-sum-thinking, buyer vs. seller approach – the age-old dance that gives selling a faint (or not-so-faint) bad name. It is one-sided, seller-driven, selfish. Success, in this approach, is defined only one way: getting the sale.

You have to be hyper-focused – have to have tunnel vision – to sell that way.

Seeing beyond the Tunnel

Going back to Smith’s Wealth of Nations, the fundamental context is that wealth is generated by working with the buyer, not against the buyer. Recognizing what the buyer needs that you can provide. Your interests are 100% aligned, not 59%. If you do business by relentlessly helping your customers do what’s right for them, selling gets remarkably easier.

All you have to do is just change the whole approach to selling. You’re not in the competition game: you’re strictly in the helping game, with a partner called your customer/client.

Once you stop focusing on selling what you have to offer, you can see what your client really needs.

You don’t have to think about what to share and what not to. You don’t have to control others. You don’t have to white-knuckle meetings and phone calls, because there are no bad outcomes. You don’t have to relentlessly screen out unqualified leads. You don’t have to practice “handling objections,” because objections are just invitations to further dialogue.

The “trick” is simple: just do the best you can to help the client. Period. Detach from the outcome. Open the aperture. Go where the client conversation takes you. Your goal is not to get the sale. Your perspective is long-term success, not this transaction. Don’t focus on monthly quotas, just go where your help is most needed. Just help the client.

If you do that, two results become clear:

  1. You will not get every sale; you may not get this sale; sometimes you don’t deserve to get it, or the goal changes, or it gets postponed – sometimes you may even recommend a competitor;
  2. In the medium-to-long run, however, you will get more

Selling this way works very well for one fundamental reason: all people (including buyers) prefer to deal with sellers they can trust – those who are honest, forthright, long-term driven, and client-focused. All people (including buyers) prefer not to deal with sellers who are in it for themselves, and constantly in denial about it.

If you give them a choice, they will gladly act on those preferences.

This is where focus is good again: when your concentration is on helping your client, with regard only for what is best for them, you end up with superior results.

You’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Don’t Steal Your Client’s Spotlight

A question I often ask when running leadership development programs is, “How many of you know people who are ‘gold medal’ listeners?” Usually about one-third of the people in the audience raise their hands.

Only one-third. Less than half the room. We can – and we must – do better.

We all know people who like to talk about themselves – a lot! They usurp entire conversations, coffee breaks, dinners, and meetings talking about themselves. People who love the sound of their own voice and who desperately need to be introduced to the question mark.

The really scary part is, if you don’t know someone like that, that person may be YOU!

Hearing Others

Trusted advisors know the value of listening. Dale Carnegie (author of How to Win Friends and Influence People) has a timeless quote:

“…you can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

And The Trusted Advisor author Charles H. Green offers this caution in his blog, Is Self-orientation Killing Your Trustworthiness?

When operating from high self-orientation, we do not hear others. We do not hear their questions, desires, fears, or emotions in general. The noise inside our head drowns them out.

So how do we show up as a “gold medal” listener? Like many things in trust-building, it’s a combination of having the right mindset and applying the right skills.

The Spotlight Mindset

Think about the last time you went to a live performance – a play, or a concert. There was someone behind the scenes whose job it was to make sure the performers were always in the spotlight; that they could always be seen.

While the skill of the spotlight operator is important, the spotlight itself is a tool to illuminate the performers. The attention shouldn’t be on the person running the spotlight, it’s all about the person in the spotlight.

In conversation, listening is our “spotlight.”

When we are attentive, curious and acknowledge what we hear from our clients, we allow them to feel truly seen. When we draw that attention to ourselves, on the other hand, we steal the spotlight from them.

Just like in the theatre, when our focus is on anything other than our client, they fade into the darkness.

For most of us, we aren’t even aware that we are stealing the spotlight. It’s usually the result of something we’ve done with the best of intentions. We want to connect with the other person by sharing a similar experience of our own, or we want to reassure them we are knowledgeable and capable, or maybe there’s a misunderstanding of an important point that needs to be clarified.

Connecting back to Dale Carnegie, being interested rather than interesting keeps the spotlight on the other person.

Spotlight Skills

Even with the best intentions, it’s hard to connect the right mindset to outcomes if we lack the skills. The basic skills for a client conversation are fairly simple:

Be prepared. Do some research (LinkedIn is a great resource) so you know a little bit about the person before you talk.

Slow down.  Don’t be in a rush to prove yourself, or show how funny or likeable or smart you are: your turn will come.

Be curious. Don’t take everything the client says at face value; dig into the context to truly understand what their experience is.

Ask questions. Get them talking about themselves, their goals and challenges.

Just mastering the basics should qualify you as a good listener. And for many people that’s enough.

But if you want to be a “gold medal” listener, there’s one more skill to master. Finding, and sticking to, your Ideal Listening Percentage (ILP). Your ILP is how much time you ideally want to spend listening vs. talking.

Many participants suggest for new client/initial discussion they would like to Listen 80%/Talk 20%. (Note: for a 1 hour meeting 80% is 48 minutes of listening!) Most participants also admit they are hard-pressed to stick to their ILP.

You’ll likely find your ILP varies based on the type of conversation you’re having. Exploratory is definitely a higher ratio. Responding to a specific request may warrant a lower ratio.

Whatever the right ILP is for you and your circumstances, consider it before, during, and after your conversation.

If you are having a conversation with a client – consider your ILP.

If you are having a conversation with a member of your team – consider your ILP.

If you are having a conversation with a family member or friend – consider you ILP.

If you are meeting a client with other members of your team, make sure you all agree on the ILP for the meeting.

Don’t Steal the Spotlight

The biggest challenge to keeping the spotlight on the client is our own self-orientation. It requires self-awareness and intentionality. During your next conversation, dedicate some quality “spotlight time”:

Be a “gold medal” listener.

How to Accelerate Trust (or Not)

You may have heard the quote, “It takes years to build up trust, and only seconds to destroy it.” That saying, like several other truisms about trust, is far from true.

In many ways, people form perceptions, trusting and non-trusting, with shocking speed.

Furthermore, the way we use that phrase – “trust takes time” – is often more as an excuse than a true explanation.

First Impressions

Think about the last time you visited a doctor you trust: the office is sanitary and organized, with medical degrees and educational diagrams displayed throughout. The doctor greets you in a clean white coat, maybe wearing a stethoscope around her neck, smiling warmly, making eye contact, and asking you how you feel, specifically about what brought you in that day. Do you trust her?

Now picture a different kind of visit: the furniture and equipment is dingy and worn-looking, the receptionist is surly, and – instead of looking you in the eye and smiling – the doctor walks in the room reading your chart and never looks up at you. How trusting do you feel now?

The point is not that you should judge a book by its cover, nor that first impressions are right (or irrevocable). Our brains are wired to instantly assess and categorize every situation, and the rational parts of our brains are usually left having to catch up.

Setting the Foundation

As the above example illustrates, trust can be created from the first instant we interact with someone. The key to accelerating trust is to lay a firm foundation. Here are three steps to help you do just that:

  1. Mind Your Mindset: Before engaging with someone you are hoping to create a trust relationship with, you need the correct mindset. If you come to the table with the belief that trust takes years to build… it will take years to build! If, on the other hand, you are confident you can create trust quickly, trust building can move forward at a rapid pace.
  2. Set Your Intention: Knowing what outcome you want is important, but be careful of jumping the gun on your own intention before trust is built. It’s apparent when someone is engaged in a conversation where they are a pawn in another’s agenda. If you detach from your outcome, you are more likely to achieve it, while you are building trust.
  3. Fully Demonstrate Your Trustworthiness: Unless you’ve never seen The Trust Equation, you probably already know that trustworthiness is more than credibility (degrees hanging on the wall, having the right answer) and reliability (being on time, following up as promised). And you probably know that the emotional aspects of trustworthiness – intimacy and low self-orientation – are the more powerful factors of trust. Be more personal, more human. It’s near impossible to connect with the “I’ve never made a mistake and I know it all” person and, quite frankly, it’s not enjoyable either.

Accelerating Trust

Once the foundation is set, trust can be built quickly, when we are aware of exactly what builds trust, and willing to take some personal risk. For specific actions to accelerate trust, check our our eBook 15 Ways to Build Trust Fast. In the meantime, here are some things to consider about accelerating each aspect of trustworthiness:

Credibility. Although credibility has a lot to do with experience and education, which take time to acquire, it’s not just about what you already bring to the table. Add to your credibility by demonstrating that you are current on topics relevant to your client or industry. Be honest and candid – admit when you don’t know something, and share your point of view when you have one (especially if you are not 100% confident). Be direct and confident (not arrogant) in what you say; use language that is familiar, and align your tone and non-verbals with your message.

Reliability. Reliability is about dependability and predictability: no surprises. Because reliability is about matching actions with promises, it is the only trust variable that takes time. People need multiple data points to see that our actions match our words. The good news is, we can immediately show we are predictable by meeting other’s expectations of timeliness, knowing and using their terminology, and presenting ourselves appropriately to the occasion. We also can create opportunities to demonstrate reliability by setting lots of small expectations and following through.

Intimacy. Many people think intimacy is the area of trustworthiness that takes the most time. Intimacy is the most powerful trust accelerator, and it takes not time, but courage. Be yourself: pretending to be anything else for the sake of building a relationship usually backfires. Take personal risks to show someone you are worthy of them taking the risk to trust you. Understand and acknowledge the other person’s perspective; they will trust you more if they are confident you get where they are coming from.

Self-orientation. High self-orientation – being focused on oneself – creeps into our everyday interactions in all manner of ways, from putting our own needs/wants/priorities (consciously or unconsciously) above those of another, to allowing our attention to wander during a conversation. Clear your mind and truly focus on the other person. Instead of trying to immediately solve their problem, try being curious about their problem. Instead of telling them how smart/nice/dependable you are, detach from your agenda and have faith that, by focusing on their agenda, they will see you for who you are.

Avoid Starting off on the Wrong Foot

Focusing on yourself instead of on the other person. We’ve all done it… someone makes a comment or asks a question, and suddenly we’re off and running, talking about our own experiences instead of listening to what the other person has to say. Once our inappropriate chiming in ends, it’s like the record skips, and we have to endure the awkward silence as we obviously refocus on their story.

People who build good trust relationships consistently focus on the other person. They listen to understand, with the intention of truly engaging, not to find the first opportunity to talk about themselves. Learn to hold back and really focus on what the other person is saying. You’ll get the chance to say what you want, and once you do, the groundwork will be laid for a valuable, trust-building conversation.

Focusing only on the rational aspects of trust. It’s important for someone you are working with, or hoping to work with, to know that you are qualified for the position in terms of education and experience. But that’s secondary to how you make the person feel on a human level. Making someone feel at ease and comfortable in your presence is more powerful than a resume can ever be.

Trust can be built in a moment, and real trust is hard to break, if you have the courage and willingness to build a strong foundation.

It takes practice to feel natural, and you will probably have some missteps along the way. As long as your mindset and intentions are in the right place, give yourself some grace and realize that trust is a journey, not a destination.

Facing a Skeptical Audience? Try This Unexpected Move.

Being influential can be challenging in-and-of-itself; being influential with a skeptical audience poses its own unique difficulties—not the least of which is our own emotional reality. Let’s be real: How do you feel when someone seems dubious or doubtful in the face of your brilliant ideas/solutions/products? I’d like to tell you that my natural curiosity and empathy rise to the occasion. But that would be a lie, because I pretty much always feel deflated or annoyed.

There’s something to be said for learning to celebrate others’ resistance. It is a sign of engagement after all. And as hard as it feels to be confronted by it, I’d choose it over their ambivalence seven days a week. Mindset work is fundamental prep work here (as it is with so many things related to trust building).

An Unexpected Move

When you anticipate a skeptical audience—and BTW, it’s safe to assume that most buyers start skeptical since we all love to buy and hate to be sold—there’s an unexpected way to open a conversation or presentation that’s unexpectedly effective. It’s simple, not easy. It requires that we do the opposite of what our baser instincts tell us to do (as it is with so many things related to trust building). I call it “putting your worst foot forward.”

Admittedly, there’s a little dramatic effect in my language choice. What I basically mean is choosing not to lead with all the things I was taught to lead with in my early days as an IT consultant: positivity, enthusiasm, and compelling justifications for whatever it is you’re selling. Instead, lead with what I’ll simply characterize as the “negative stuff,” like the downsides, cons, or challenges associated with your idea/product/service. Or even your own personal weaknesses, or the weaknesses of your organization.

Say what?

Making Sense of What Might Seem Crazy

There are ample reasons NOT to follow this advice. It’s risky. It could backfire. You could lose their confidence rather than build it. A negative tone might be set. You might call their attention to something negative they hadn’t thought of before. The list goes on. Plus, it just kinda feels weird.

All that said, if you’re open to a little additional perspective, I discovered something really interesting a couple of years ago that makes sense of my unconventional advice.

This unexpected way to open a presentation or conversation with a skeptical audience is unexpectedly due in large part to something called The Sarick Effect, and I learned about it in Adam Grant’s book Originals: How Nonconformists Move the World. The lesson offered by The Sarick Effect (named after social scientist Leslie Sarick) flies in the face of just about every piece of wisdom out there on how to be compelling and build others’ confidence in you—which is, of course, why I love it so much.

Long story short, The Sarick Effect suggests that when you’re speaking to a skeptical audience, doing what most of us have been taught to do—aiming to win their hearts and minds with confidence—actually backfires.

Why? Because skeptics naturally have their guards up and meeting their reserve with your optimism has the natural effect of raising their shields. Leading with “negative stuff,” on the other hand, has numerous curious results: (1) it’s disarming, (2) it creates allies by giving the doubting Thomases a problem to solve, (3) it makes you look smart, and (4) it actually builds your credibility.

The Magic of Humble Confidence

Let’s be clear: how you do this makes a difference. The magical mixture that I think of as “humble confidence” is key. Too much humility, and your fears of seeming weak come true. Stepping assuredly with your worst foot forward, on the other hand, actually does win hearts and minds.

Here’s the lesson in a nutshell: When you feel like you’re one down, your baser instincts will tell you to bring more swagger to the table. A wiser approach is doing the exact opposite.

As it is with so many things related to trust-building.


For more on this subject, including specific techniques to listen masterfully while your audience has their guard up, plus how and when to bring your perspectives into the exchange, check out the no-strings-attached webinar recording: “How to Influence a Skeptical Audience in Three Simple Steps.”


Building Trust in a Low-Trust World

Being trustworthy means you make it easier for another person to trust you. You do what you say, are authentic in your words and actions, and are an overall “solid” human that people hold in high regard. But with trust, being trustworthy is only one side of the coin. To create trust, you must be trustworthy, and you also must take the risk of trusting. The latter is where most people struggle.

In our current state of the world, trust is insanely low. Only 17% of Americans today say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (Pew Research Center) and a Harvard Business Review survey revealed 58% of people say they trust strangers more than their own boss (Forbes). People are looking side to side to determine who they can trust and are coming up short. We’re in a trust standoff, and if no one steps forward first, there will be no movement.

How do you build the most satisfying personal and professional relationships possible, when no one is willing to take the risky leap to trust? The answer is that you need to take the first leap, and trust that the other person will reciprocate and trust you in return. You can make that reciprocation easier by leading with intimacy, which is the strongest factor in The Trust Equation.

Intimacy is about creating a sense of safety in the relationship, for you and for your client or colleague. It’s part discretion, part empathy, and part risk-taking. True intimacy demands that you be vulnerable and open to taking risk, just as you are asking your client to take the leap to trust you. Here are five practical ways to kick intimacy into high gear:

  • Listen really well, to both facts and emotions. Be fully present to what your client is saying and experiencing. This may mean putting aside distractions (no multi-tasking) or silencing the voice in your head that is running off to solve the problem you think you already identified. Then acknowledge what you hear, both the facts and the feelings. Giving someone the gift of listening is the fastest way to create intimacy.
  • Share something personal. You don’t have to share private details of your life, or even what you did over the weekend. Some of the most intimacy-building moments come from sharing how you personally are impacted by a situation, a decision, or an experience.
  • Tell your client something you appreciate about them. Are you impressed by their point of view? Appreciate how they navigated a tricky political situation? Grateful for the support they’ve given you? Don’t just think it, say it.
  • Comment on feelings – yours or theirs. Empathy creates emotional connection. When your client knows you really understand them, not just the situation, but how it impacts them, they will be more open to hearing your perspective. And because trust is a two-way street, be willing to share with them when you’re frustrated, excited, or upset. They’ll appreciate knowing that you’re human, too.
  • Say what needs to be said. Acknowledging uncomfortable situations and being direct with less-than-happy news lets your client know they can count on you for the good and the bad, so they aren’t left wondering if there’s something you’re holding back. Bonus – candor builds credibility at the same time.

It’s easy to say you must take the first step in creating trust, yet harder to do because it feels so risky. Here are five more practical tips to help you overcome your fear to take this important personal risk:

  • Realistically assess the risk. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen? What is the probability of that happening?” Then act accordingly.
  • Name it and claim it. What is making it feel risky to you? Getting these fears into the light of day can rob them of their hold on you.
  • Practice empathy. As discussed above, empathy creates connectedness. It also can help you see the situation from both sides, which creates a more objective perspective on the risk you feel.
  • Identify your assumptions. Discern the facts that you know from the assumptions you make. Having trouble discerning fact from assumption? You can always ask your client to help you see it more clearly.
  • Believe in reciprocity. You have the choice to take the first step. Believe that the other person will follow.

Trust is personal, and it occurs between two people. You can’t force someone to trust you. What you CAN do is pave a smooth path that feels less risky for both you and your client.

The 80/20 rule for Virtual Relationships (Part I): Beware the Seductive View That “It’s Different Now”

This post was co-authored by Andrea P. Howe and Noelle Mykolenko.

Virtual, virtual, virtual. It’s all the rage now. Virtual meetings. Virtual teams. Virtual selling. There is no shortage of Google results boasting “11 Tips,” “5 Ways,” and “The One Thing You Need to Know.” Sales and relationship training providers are quick to tell you that you must, must, must adapt quickly to your new virtual reality or watch your revenues plummet. Providers of professional services seem especially quick to take the bait.

The problem is, that’s only 20% true.

Here’s our take:

Relationship-building and selling aren’t really different these days, in spite of what people who sell these things are trying to tell you, and in spite of what your own fears are whispering—or maybe shouting—in your ear. It’s anything but “business as usual” these days, that’s for sure. But beware the temptation to spend a lot of time and money on shiny “new” stuff that becomes an easy distraction from what really matters.

As Noelle so aptly said in a recent interview, “Human nature hasn’t changed.” Now is the time for 80% focus on our relationship EQ and 20% focus on improving our virtual IQ. Not the other way around.

Tips and tricks have never saved you before and they won’t save you now. Perfecting your office lighting is seductive, in the same way it’s always been tempting to tinker with a deck that contains far too much content to begin with. It’s easy to default to technical answers for non-technical problems. It’s more challenging—and considerably less soothing—to work on improving our own relationship liabilities and deficits.

True, the medium has changed for many of us; it’s at least become more dominantly virtual. And there are some really helpful and important things we all can and should practice to be more effective as a result. But we can and should do that while we focus most of our time and attention on trust-building mastery.

Our collective virtual work conditions (and selling/relationship circumstances) are a byproduct of our global situation; losing sight of that creates big relationship risks. Front and center for us all are the massive global and local challenges we’re facing—even if we momentarily forget or aren’t always present to the ways we are walking around unsettled and uncertain. Sure, we’re getting used to our “new normal.” Sort of. But let’s get real: we’re still only just beginning to grapple with it all—just ask a parent who’s navigating the new school year right now. And on top of everything, some businesses are in serious trouble.

If you’re wondering why your long-standing client is not replying to the email you sent asking for 30 minutes to brief them on your new offering, take a step back and consider that they just might be dealing with some serious sh** of their own right now–consciously or otherwise. The good intentions and solid logic that suggest they need what you’re selling more than ever don’t change that. Adding a standard, “Hope you and your loved ones are doing OK under the circumstances” at the beginning of your emails isn’t nearly enough. Conducting more engaging Zoom meetings isn’t enough, either.

Anyone whose success depends of the quality of their relationships should be laser focused on being of greater service to clients, starting with relating to them as businesspeople, yes, but also simply as people. There is an unprecedented opportunity to do right and do good (#silverlining) by taking our relationships deeper and broader.

If a trusted advisor is a safe haven for tough issues, consider how many more tough issues there are to be safe havens for right now. Our current environment is a weirdly helpful backdrop for doing that, and faster than ever before. We’ve all been physically and emotionally disconnected for months; people are craving connection. Plus, things that weren’t previously possible or the norm before are becoming commonplace. One example: Thanks to the shared impact of COVID on our loved ones, it suddenly seems more relevant to talk about our families and home situations even in our “business” conversations. Another example: That new possible client who, before COVID, would never turn her camera on in Zoom? Now it’s her default.

And therein lies the extraordinary opportunity to make more meaningful and lasting connections, provided that we lead with our caring, not with our spit-polished “virtual selling” techniques.

The biggest trust de-railer for us all right now is the same as it has always been, only amplified x 10: it’s fear.  There’s the fear of not making our numbers, of losing our jobs, of losing a family member, and more. Uncertainty is the word of the day, and our human brains are fighting ambiguity at every turn. Fear triggers our basest instincts: we default to protecting ourselves, obsessing about stuff, and avoiding relationship risks (or any risks, for that matter). This in turn affects our ability to really tune in to and be of service to others. Plus, we add to the cacophony when we don’t manage our own “stuff.”

Your results will be seriously compromised—in some cases, indelibly—unless and until you (1) recognize your fear and (2) deal with it effectively,

The only thing worse than a hammer looking for a nail is a fear-based hammer looking for a nail.

Your pre-pandemic relationship liabilities haven’t mysteriously disappeared. To quote Warren Buffett, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” When things are going well, it’s easy to ignore mediocre relationship skills because you’re successfully getting the next sale or getting the job done.

Now is the time to do some serious personal work so that you can get seriously focused on how to make a difference for your clients and other people who matter to you.

The bottom line …

True trusted advisorship demands that we find ways to make choices from our higher selves, not from our baser instincts, and not from our bag of virtual tricks. Our current reality is a call to lead with time-tested relationship principles (80%) and shore them up with virtual best practices (20%) to form everlasting client bonds and deep, unshakable loyalty.

In Part II, we’ll show you how to use the trust equation as a framework to do exactly that.

Building Trust In A Crisis

Pandemic. Covid-19. Unprecedented. New normal…

… You can write the rest of this paragraph yourself – things have changed. Is there anything left to be written about it all?

Yes there is. It’s about trust. In particular – how do you manage interpersonal trust in professional relationships?  How have trust dynamics changed in working with and selling to clients? What about trust in management and leadership?

For over 20 years, Trusted Advisor Associates has helped professionals deepen trust with clients and colleagues. We built this page to share our most-relevant thinking on navigating trust in professional relationships during the current crisis.

Click on Areas of focus:

Emotional Components of Trust

In normal times, the emotional aspects of trustworthiness (Intimacy and Self orientation) are slightly more powerful than the non-emotional traits (Credibility & Reliability) See The Trust Equation to learn more.

Now, the importance of those emotional components is multiples more – since the overwhelming response to a crisis like this is an emotional one. Broadly speaking, we need to manage our Self-orientation and increase our Intimacy.

Self orientation

Your self-orientation is likely to be high right now, whether you realize it or not. On the other hand – so is everyone else’s.

We recognize – and will remember – those who are able to genuinely reach out beyond their own psyches and connect with others in such times.

Grant yourself the grace to realize that things are different . Recognize and acknowledge what you are experiencing, and manage your Self-orientation moving forward.


Intimacy & Empathy

Everyone deals with stress in their own way. You are unique – and so is everyone else.

Remember the acronym, N.A.P.A.L.M.: Not All People Are Like Me. Others’ experiences are likely to be different from yours, even if their circumstances appear to be similar.

In times of stress, empathy is rare: at the same time, it’s vastly more valuable.  The ability to truly understand (while not necessarily agreeing with) the other person’s situation creates emotional safety, or Intimacy, for the other person. And Intimacy was already the most important factor in the Trust Equation.


Virtual Communication & Leadership

The hallmark of the COVID-19 crisis is that it requires physical distancing. It raises to the forefront the question: How do you create trust at a distance? Those who figure that out now will be appreciated, effective, and successful going forward.


Above All Else…

Trust is personal. Organizations don’t build trust, people do.

Let us know what you’re experiencing, and how we can help the people in your organization build trust in these times of change. Please reach out. We look forward to the conversation.