How Can I Get Them to Trust Me?

The trust equationHow can I get them to trust me? 

It’s an important question for lots of people: financial planners, TV news anchors, IT help desk people in companies, HR folks who want a seat at the table, pharma company management, and parents and teenagers.

There are three broad approaches to getting others to trust you.  They are not mutually exclusive, and are probably not exhaustive—but they come close.

Of course, you can’t control another human being.  Trying to do so will paradoxically destroy their trust in you.  Which is why all three approaches involve full acceptance of the one whose trust you seek.

Trust Creation Strategy 1: Trust Them. 

We are powerfully wired as part of our social instincts to engage in reciprocal exchanges with each other.  These acts of reciprocity create networks of cumulative obligation—or of enmity. 

If someone behaves well toward me, I “owe” that person parallel behavior.  This simple fact underlies the social role of etiquette, as well as things like gifts, Don Corleone’s power, or ritualistic forms of greeting like secret handshakes.

We are powerfully motivated to return in kind what we are given.  If you want to be trusted—first seek to trust.

Trust Creation Strategy 2: Be Trustworthy. 

It sounds trite, but it’s not.  It is a strategy of attraction, not promotion.  To be trusted, try to be worthy of that trust.  All else equal, people trust those who are worthy of trust.  And people have finely honed capabilities of discrimination that far exceed our abilities to articulate them.

Which begs the question: what constitutes trustworthiness?  Steven M. R. Covey,  following consistently in his father’s Seven Habits behavioral pattern, identifies 13 behaviors—phrased as imperative-form verbs like ‘get better,’ or ‘confront reality.’ 

Much though we may like verbs–they suggest definitive actions we can take–they are misleading.  You don’t make people trust you, they choose to do so.   You attract trust by being who you are, not by acting upon others. 

I prefer the Trust Equation: it is couched in the ways people see us—as attributes.  Four of them pretty much sum it up: credibility, reliability, intimacy—and whether we are seen as self-oriented, or other-oriented.

This definition of trustworthiness underpins the Trust QuotientTM self assessment test—take it here and find out how trustworthy you are.

Trust Creation Strategy 3: Listen.  

The single most powerful trust-creating action we can take is to give to another the fine gift of our own attention.  To listen—intently, to the exclusion of all other thoughts, without simultaneous cogitation, and devoid of judgment. 

This has nothing to do with the content of what is being heard.  It is simply about the act of offering attention.  It translates, to the one being listened to, as an act of respect.  As such, it triggers the reciprocity reaction: we are willing to listen to those who have listened to us. 

All three strategies, to work, must be done cleanly.  While we can all become more trustworthy, or better listeners, or better trustors ourselves, we have to keep our motives intact.

If we want others to trust us solely as means to our own ends—they won’t.  The concepts of giving freely, and without attachment, are key. The paradox is: if you do these things, you become trusted.  But if you set out to do them in order to be trusted, so that you can etc. etc. etc.—you don’t.  

Oprah and Two Trust Tests

Trust is bustin’ out all over. Or, to be more accurate, its perceived absence is creating a lot of press.

It’s one thing to become a focus for Steven H.R. Covey Jr.—but it’s yet another level of phenomenon when Oprah puts trust on the front page of O Magazine.

Of particular note is a self-scoring “trustometer” self-assessment trust test by Martha Beck.

It’s a good quiz; go take it, you’ll learn something.

There are three kinds of trust surveys: those that measure trusting, those that measure trustworthiness, and those that measure the combination, i.e. trust. Ms. Beck’s trust test measures the first—trusting.

The thrust is: how clearly can you see things for what they are, rather than as they appear through your own obscured ego-driven lenses? Your gut feelings are probably very good—unless you get in their way.

This is a good message—the ability to intelligently take risks, to trust, is a powerful thing. In the Age of Madoff, where trusting is an unpopular concept, this is a welcome reminder of the importance of trust.

So much for trusting: how about, can we measure how much people trust us?

Yes we can. If you’ll forgive the shameless self-promotion, that’s what the Trust Quotient™, or TQ™, measures—our level of trustworthiness. (To be precise, since it’s also a self-assessment, it’s our best guess about how much others trust us).

Unlike the Beck trust test, which gives you a one-paragraph “if your score was between __ and __, you are ….”, the Trust Quotient trust test gives you several pages of analysis and recommendations about the various components of trustworthiness.

Take them both: the Beck Trust test on your ability to trust: and the TQ Trust Quotient test to assess your trustworthiness.



Covey on Trust

I am remiss in reviewing Steven MR Covey’s The Speed of Trust: the One Thing that Changes Everything
Remiss because it came out over a year ago, because the book (and associated events) has been quite a success—and because it deserves that success.

The book itself is organized according to “waves”—from self-trust, to relationship trust, then on to organizational, market and societal trust (at this last level, it echoes  Francis Fukuyama’s seminal work, Trust, from a decade earlier, subtitled "the social virtues and the creation of prosperity.")

Covey’s section on self-trust—what I would call the realm of “personal trust”—centers around credibility, which he suggests consists of integrity, intent, capabilities and results.  This covers territory similar to my own (with Maister and Galford) in The Trusted Advisor:  (credibility + reliability + intimacy, all divided by self-orientation), except for his inclusion of integrity.

His linking of integrity and credibility remind me of another interesting piece of work—Integrity: a Positive Model…, by Michael Jensen and Werner Erhard.  Both take an end-run around “ethics” toward a more practical approach which still yields similar results without the whiff of theology.

But while Covey is theoretically sound, his real focus is on the practical, as befits someone who ran his father’s highly successful business (as in  Seven Habits of Highly Successful People).

Most of the book, and I suspect most of his lectures and seminars, are aimed at corporate audiences—in particular, what people can do to become more trusted. He lists 13 behaviors, all of which make perfect commonsense (which is not to say they are common): listen first, talk straight, meet commitments, etc.

It goes without saying—though I’ll say it—I couldn’t agree more with him.

I think Covey’s greatest contribution, however, may lie in his forcefully advancing the simple proposition that Trust Matters.  In one of his emails promoting a webinar, he rhetorically asks, “Is Trust more important than Vision? Strategy? Systems? Structure? Skills?” and proceeds to answer in the affirmative.

Linked with some effective framing (don’t pay a trust tax, earn a trust dividend), he makes a case that business hasn’t heard often enough: trust pays off, not just in some mufty-flufty New Age calculus (though that’s true too), but as well in the conventional, traditional business language of ROI, efficiency and effectiveness.

I have some minor quibbles—his emphasis on measurement, for example—but they are not critical to his contribution.  It’s a fine piece of work that moves forward our understanding and appreciation of the critical role of trust, particularly in business.