Five Misconceptions about Trust in Business: Part 1

There are many misconceptions about trust that pervade how we think about professional relationships. While most seem harmless (think about Ronald Reagan’s admonition to trust, but verify), unless they are examined and dispelled, they will impede real trust.

This blog series describes five of the most common – and most dangerous – misconceptions about trust:

  1. Trust must be earned
  2. Trust takes time to build 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

MISCONCEPTION 1: TRUST MUST BE EARNED

I often start workshops by asking if the people there trust me, and why. One reason I commonly hear from those who don’t is, “Trust is earned.” While that mindset is pervasive, it’s an unfounded misconception that often hinders relationships before they start.

Quite simply, withholding all trust until it’s “earned” would make it nearly impossible to collaborate or have meaningful transactions with others. A complete lack of trust impedes communication and progress.

The reality is that in most business situations, we extend at least some level of trust from the very first interaction with someone new. Trust is the default that allows any productive conversation or collaboration to occur.

Trust is not “All-or-Nothing”

Once I’ve introduced myself, at least a few more people will say they trust me, but in a limited capacity based on my role as a workshop facilitator.

Trust is contextual – it can exist in varying degrees for different situations or aspects of a relationship. In other words, I trust the UPS driver to deliver my packages, but not to babysit my grandchildren.

Of course, egregious violations like unethical conduct or repeated untrustworthiness can sever trust completely. But more often, trust exists even if it’s fragile at first. The opportunity is to nurture it into something more resilient.

The Trust Is Already There – Now Build Upon It

To be trusted, you must also be willing to trust. Extending trust upfront creates an environment for more open communication and creates opportunity for personal connection – the foundation for any trusted advisor relationship. Withholding trust, meanwhile, can spark defensive tendencies and strain the relationship before it starts.

The key is to approach new relationships not from a deficit requiring trust to be painstakingly earned, but instead looking to build upon and validate the trust that already exists. It’s a mindset shift, but one that facilitates much stronger collaboration and relationships.

Finally, remember that many people are willing to trust others until proven untrustworthy, rather than requiring trust to be earned first. Taking the risk of granting trust first demonstrates vulnerability and opens the door for the other person to reciprocate and validate that trust.

UP NEXT – Come back tomorrow to read about the second misconception: Trust takes time to build and is quickly lost.

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

Six Hacks to Get into the Trusted Advisor Mindset

In a recent TrustMatters webinar, I shared four key attributes of Trusted Advisor relationships, and six mindsets that can help you get there.

You can view this and all our free webinar recordings here. For those of you who prefer to read versus watching a recording, here’s what we discussed.

Four Attributes of Trusted Advisor Relationships

True Trusted Advisors are safe havens for tough issues – those people to whom we can turn for any challenge, professional or private, when we want guidance, support, or a sounding board. The special professional relationships Trusted Advisors form have four key attributes that distinguish them. These attributes are:

Personal. We often define our professional relationships by the roles we play: client and consultant, business partner and provider, customer and customer success advisor. Thinking about our relationships in terms of our roles creates a buffer and promotes the concept that we are working together only to fulfill a transaction. For trusted advisors, the relationship transcends the transaction. It is not a relationship between roles, but a relationship between two people. To be a Trusted Advisor, we must care about our client as a person.

Two-way. No one has the power to unilaterally create a Trusted Advisor relationship. The client must participate and reciprocate. While we can always strive to be more trustworthy, we won’t – can’t – be Trusted Advisors to all our clients. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t invest in building trust with all your clients, just that if it isn’t two-way, it’s limited.

Both Rational and Emotional. Trusted Advisor relationships go beyond the rational benefits, like solving business problems and meeting business needs, to engage on an emotional level. Empathy, the ability to recognize what someone is experiencing emotionally, is a critical element to connecting. But Trusted Advisorship also is more than deep friendship. Don’t overlook that being a Trusted Advisor means being comfortable engaging on a broad set of issues, not just those for which we’ve been hired.

Intrinsically about Perceived Risk. To quote from The Trusted Advisor, “Trust without risk is like cola without fizz; there isn’t much point to it.” The very act of trusting is taking a risk; if there were no risk, there would be no need for trust. Risk, real and perceived, varies based on the situation, but the client’s perception of their own risk may as well be the reality. Whether or not we agree with that perception, we need to acknowledge and respond in kind.

Mindset Matters

So how do we develop relationships that have these key attributes? It’s simplistic to look for tips and tricks without considering the importance of Trusted Advisor mindsets. And often, having the right mindset will help us naturally take the right action. Mindset hacks are simple things we can do to get – and stay – in the right mindset.

Here are six key Trusted Advisor mindsets, and a hack to get into each one.

Mindset #1: Focus on the other person. If we focus on the other person, everything else in the relationship will pretty much fall into place. As professionals, it would seem obvious that we would be focused on the other person. But there are a lot of impediments to other-focus. For example, we may believe that our technical capability or competency is enough, or have difficulty maintaining concentrated attention, or we’re focused on what they think about us. Maybe it’s just that we think that solving the problem is more important than understanding the problem. All of these are impediments to other focus.

The mindset hack here is to focus on the person, not the problem. Clients generally want to be understood as a precondition to having their problems solved.

Mindset #2: Self-confidence. Self-confidence is about recognizing the value that you bring to the relationship, beyond technical expertise or the results of a particular transaction. The biggest impediment to self-confidence is fear; that we’re wrong, that they won’t think we’re smart or competent, or like or respect us. So we push conversations to our expertise, to where we’re comfortable. With self-confidence, you can let the conversation go where it naturally will, knowing you can meet the client where they are.

The mindset hack for self-confidence is to ask yourself, “What value do I bring to the relationship?” (Beyond the technical expertise to solve the challenge is that’s in front of you.)

Mindset #3: Ego strength. This sounds like a strange one for trusted advisors, where we spend so much time talking about maintaining a low self orientation. Ego strength is the ability to take yourself out of the equation and focus on the process of developing the relationship. Ego strength requires objectivity, the ability to look past ourselves and our emotions and focus on the process of building the relationship. Impediments to ego strength include a desire for recognition or an avoidance of blame; inappropriate emotional attachment to our solution, idea or perspective; and losing sight of the big picture. We let what we want to get emotionally out of a situation get in the way of the relationship.

The mindset hack for ego strength is a mantra, “It’s not about me.” If you feel yourself thinking about getting the credit, or the blame, or you find you’re tied up in something that’s emotional for you, just remind yourself that it’s not about you.

Mindset #4: Curiosity. The mindset around curiosity is this: the problem is rarely as simple as it seems at first pass. David Maister, co-author of The Trusted Advisor, points out that the problem is never what the client says it is in the first meeting. Curiosity helps us focus on what we don’t know, not just on what we do know. It enables better solutions, ensures we’re solving the right problem, and demonstrates to client that we fully understand them. Some things that get in the way of curiosity are over-confidence from past experience (you’ve seen this before and know the answer), unexplored or unrecognized assumptions, and urgency. Don’t get so caught up solving the problem that you forget to understand the problem.

The mindset hack for curiosity is one question: “What’s behind that?” It’s non-judgmental and creates an opportunity for the other person to share more before we move on to the next step in problem solving.

Mindset #5: Inclusive professionalism. This is not “inclusive” in the sense of DEI. Inclusive professionalism means working with the client, not carrying the attitude that, as the professional, I’m here to fix them or do something they are not capable of doing. Inclusive professionalism requires that we embrace the value the client contributes to do our job correctly. Some inhibitors to inclusive professionalism include fear of losing control, patronization stemming from ego, and the assumption that they offer limited value because they asked for our help. Lack of transparency can also be exclusive. Our clients are specialists and experts in their roles. We may have a different perspective or experience, but they are experts at what they do, and we need both parts, together, to succeed.

The mindset hack for inclusive professionalism is a simple statement: “We will be more successful together.” That suggests they have something to add and we have something to add, and only together can we be successful.

Mindset #6: The relationship is the goal. It’s easy to get so caught up in work we’re doing that we forget about the relationship. Relationships survive bad events. Not projects. And relationships lead to growth, not deliverables. One impediment to a relationship mindset is short term thinking. If you only focus on this project or transaction, you give up the future potential the relationship holds. Similarly, only focusing on the technical problem leaves you with nothing when the problem is solved. Another major impediment is a lack of willingness to invest emotionally, to care about our clients as human beings.

The mindset hack is very, very simple. “The relationship is more important than …” The relationship is more important than not being blamed, than defending myself, than completing this deliverable right now. If we always put the relationship first, then our behaviors will follow.

Keeping Yourself on Track

Changing your mindset takes practice and intentionality. These four questions will help you be intentional about your mindset:

  1. Who am I thinking about?
  2. What does the client feel about this?
  3. Who am I serving by my present approach?
  4. What am I afraid of here?

The next time you feel yourself slipping out of the Trusted Advisor mindsets, ask yourself these four questions to get back on track.

Content for this post sourced from The Trusted Advisor by Maister, Green, and Galford, The Free Press, 2000; and Trust-Based Selling by Charles H. Green, McGraw Hill, 2006.

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

Building Trust in the World of Zoom

Zoom and other virtual meeting spaces helped save personal and professional relationships across the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic. While we all adjusted to an explosion in the prevalence of virtual teams, which have since revolutionized the modern workplace, the challenges were — and still are, quite honestly — clear.

The lighting. The sound. The background. The Wi-Fi. The inadvertent interruptions from partners, kids, pets, and even unexpected doorbells. It all adds up to Zoom fatigue.

And that is not even half of it.

Using technology and virtual meetings to communicate, nurture professional relationships, and increase revenue inherently leaves participants feeling disconnected. While the calls for employees to return to the office are being met with resistance, a structured hybrid approach is a resounding answer to encouraging a productive workspace.

This means Zoom meetings will remain a large part of the business culture.

So, how do we leverage virtual meeting platforms to remain connected to new hires, seasoned employees, upper management, prospective and existing clients, and vendors? How do we build trust with essential teams that rely on technology to communicate? We have answers.

Pre-Meeting Preparation & Communication

Before the meeting, create an agenda and provide participants with links, documents, and other reference materials to actively engage in the conversation.

When meeting organizers set well-defined objectives and clearly communicate the purpose of the meeting before it starts, participants are more likely to trust that their time is being valued and used productively.

Be Punctual & Prepared

Whether you are the organizer or participant, being punctual shows that you respect everyone else’s schedules and demonstrates that you are a positive addition to the conversation. If you were emailed meeting documents, read them before the meeting and have them available when it starts. When other participants feel others are unprepared (deservedly or otherwise), there is an immediate lack of trust.

Use Video & Active Nonverbal Cues

While appearing on video is not everyone’s favorite, it helps participants see facial expressions and body language, enhancing the sense of connection. Nonverbal cues, like nodding and smiling, show engagement and empathy.

Introduce Participants, Their Roles & Backgrounds

It is not uncommon to see unfamiliar faces in Zoom meetings. Immediately, this sends everyone scrambling for details about the participants, which takes their attention away from the forum.

Begin the meeting by making sure everyone’s role and background is clear, paying special attention to newcomers or infrequent attendees.  Ask participants to share something personal (even as simple as where they’re located) to help establish personal connections and foster a sense of belonging. Inclusivity helps build trust and respect.

Actively Listen and Encourage Openness

Actively listening to each person and thoughtfully responding to their comments encourages open dialogue and shows you value their input. Encourage participants to ask questions and address any concerns they might have. Share your thoughts, experiences, and challenges when relevant. If you aren’t sure if it’s appropriate (or don’t have the opportunity to) interject, use the visual response button or the meeting chat to show support and add to others’ messages. While engaging publicly may feel vulnerable, this vulnerability can encourage others to do the same, fostering a sense of authenticity and trust while demonstrating your willingness to be transparent and responsive.

Follow Agendas, Stay Focused & Manage Time Effectively

Demonstrate that you are organized and respect other participants’ commitments by sticking to the meeting agenda. Allocate time for each agenda item and stay on track. Reliable behavior and respecting participants’ time build trust in your ability to lead or participate in a productive meeting.

Align the Team Through Technology

Share meeting notes, action items, and next steps with participants and ensure consistency across all communication platforms using resources like shared calendars, collaboration channels, online filing systems, and project management tools. This demonstrates accountability and helps keep everyone on the same page. It can also encourage participants to provide feedback on the meeting format, content, and structure to reduce redundancies and improve processes while showing you value their input.

 

Building trust virtually requires all four elements of the Trust Equation, credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation, to facilitate meaningful interactions and collaborate effectively.

 

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

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:

 

Trustworthiness and Teams

This post was co-authored by Sandy Styer and Noelle Mykolenko.

Trust is paramount to collaboration. In a team setting, we are called on to build trust with multiple people at once. This adds complexity because any action we take to create trust with one person may be closely viewed (and interpreted) by others with whom we are not directly interacting.

Core to of our way of thinking about trustworthiness is the Trust Equation, which describes trustworthiness through the four components of Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and Self-Orientation. (Take our online Trust Quotient Self-assessment to see your trustworthiness strengths and opportunities.)

Applying the Trust Equation in a Team Setting

Some actions that demonstrate trustworthiness are particularly useful for the complexities of a team setting. Here are four specific ways to build trust and further collaboration in teams:

CREDIBILITY: When the team is first assembled, go beyond the usual organization-focused introductions [“I’m Jane Smith, a SR PM in the RV Division.”] and have each team member say something about what they bring to the group and what they hope the project outcomes will be. We believe in people whom we know something about; resume headlines are a weak form of credibility.

RELIABILITY: Be predictable and dependable in context of the team’s goals and culture. When you turn in a piece of work, refer back to the master schedule and how your piece relates. Adopt team norms and use common language (jargon and acronyms). Be consistent in how you interact with all team members, staying especially alert to actions that could be perceived as special treatment – favorable or unfavorable – based on role or organizational differences.

INTIMACY: When someone starts a call with: “So, how was everyone’s weekend?” really share something: “We had so much fun; my 5 year old daughter played T-ball in the back yard, and she was hilarious whacking at the ball and running around the bases.” We trust those who are willing to take the small personal risk of revealing something about themselves; encourage it through role-modeling and asking open-ended questions that can’t be easily answered by a simple “fine” or “ok.”

This goes for bad news too.  Be open about blocks you’re running into or delays you’re facing. It builds trust to admit something like “I’m struggling to identify the target audience is for this piece, which makes it hard to write.  Could we get consensus on this call?”  Such an admission also may be the best way to get the help you want and deserve.

SELF-ORIENTATION: When you’re with the group, be relentlessly present. Avoid multi-tasking, no matter how pressing your deadlines are or how relevant you think the conversation is to your area. Be equally attuned to opportunities for you to help other team members as you are for how they can contribute to the outcomes for which you are personally responsible.

When we work in teams, it’s easy to over-focus on our own outcomes, and in so doing we sometimes forget that the people with whom we’re working are people, and not just a means to our end.

A Virtual Wrench in the (Team)works

Today, whether it’s due to globalization or a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many more of us are working on virtual teams.

When we interact with others face-to-face, we send and receive all kinds of clues and indicators that help us assess trustworthiness, and by which we can show others they can trust us. Casual encounters in the hallway, tone of voice and body language, and small daily experiences all contribute to building trust. Face-to-face is high-bandwidth trust time.

With so much of the world now working in virtual teams, building trust among the members of a team who don’t look one another in the eye or share coffee every morning is an added challenge. See our recent blogpost about building trust in virtual settings.

While there are differences between working face to face in a team and working virtually, the practices in this blog post are effective for either situation. All of them revolve around remembering that we are part of a team that consists of other very real people, individuals in their own right who have contributions to make and goals to achieve.

 

Trust Matters, The Podcast: The Ghosting of Business Future (Episode 27)

The owner of a small tech consultancy talks about her recent experience being ghosted by a contractor she hired. She asks “What should I do about being ghosted?  How can I prevent this from happening again in the future?”

Want to learn more about how to handle ghosting in business? Read recent blog by Charles H. Green.

Do you want to send your questions to Charlie & Trust Matters, The Podcast?

We’ll answer almost ANY question about confusing, complicated or awkward business situations with clients, management, and colleagues.

Email: [email protected]

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Trust Matters, The Podcast: Trusting a Team Member on a High-Profile Project (Episode 19)

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Trust Matters, The Podcast: Competing on Competitors’ Lower Rates (Episode 12)

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Trust Matters, The Podcast: How to Establish Trust When Managing a New Team (Episode 8)

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Trust Matters, The Podcast: How to Manage an Untrustworthy Client (Episode 5)

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