How To Build Trust

With the current market condition of tight credit, the escalating cost of doing business and the ubiquitous Internet, global competition is
May 28, 2009

With the current market condition of tight credit, the escalating cost of doing business and the ubiquitous Internet, global competition is hot and crowded.  And one of the issues that keeps surfacing?  Trust.

That’s what this entry is all about:  Why trust matters and how to get, keep and maintain it. It’s the one thing we need and want, yet it’s so hard to get and keep.

But why?

Case in point.  While running a global small business, I meet a lot of people via email, on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, through our blog and at conferences, and I think I can trust them.  (Why not?  There’s no reason not to until proven otherwise.)  But in most cases, I probably should not because I have no history with them.

With the Internet, anyone can claim to be an expert in anything at any time.  Competitors are everywhere on the planet, but can they be trusted?  How do you distinguish yourself from them?  How do you prove to the world that you are the real deal and can be trusted?

To me, a trustworthy person is someone who is totally authentic, transparent in their dealings, has a strong sense of who they are (a noticeable sense of purpose), takes responsibility on things (no excuses, just results), and always does what they say they are going to do.  Is that what you look for, too?

Since this notion is so prevalent globally, I declare the next new trend or deliverable in 2009 will be trust.  But I can’t take total credit for it (because I prefer to maintain my reputation as being trustworthy).  I had the help of the 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer.  The report highlights why trust is down.  Government bailouts, the near implosion of the American auto industry and PSGW (Ponzi Schemes Gone Wild) are some contributing factors.

So I decided to check in with six of my trusted colleagues to get their thoughts on why trust matters and how they build it. Here’s what they said:

1.  Marilynn T. Mobley, Senior Vice President, Strategic Counsel,Edelman; author of Baby Boomer blog; United States:

Trust must be earned every day and yet it can be destroyed in a single day. — Marilynn Mobley

Trust is one of the most important factors in determining a person or company’s reputation.  When people believe you will always do the right thing, that you’re transparent and forthcoming, they want to do business with you. The companies that are most trusted are those that truly engage with their customers. They listen to them, act on suggestions, look for opportunities to support causes that matter to them, and focus on continual improvement.

Trustworthiness can’t be faked.  It isn’t something you do - it’s what you are. Trust must be earned every day and yet it can be destroyed in a single day.

2.  Dara K. Griffith, CPA, CMA, CFM, Director, Entrepreneurial Services Group; Co-Director of Women’s Leadership for the Great Lakes Economic Unit of RSM McGladrey, Inc.; United States:

Having the courage to say ‘I don’t know’ can sometimes create trust more effectively than having the instantaneous answer. — Dara Griffith

It is important to be technically competent in order to create professional respect in my line of work.  But to create trust with a client, it is even more imperative not to feign expertise.  My clients trust the accounting advice that I give them because they know that if I do not personally have the answer, I will find the expert in our firm who does.

Attempting to talk around an issue or give less than accurate information will quickly diminish any trust that you have built.  I learned this valuable lesson several years ago after a job interview.  I was told that my sincere answer of, “I don’t know what that is, but I do know where to research it,” was refreshing. It was the final factor in their decision to give me the offer.

Having the courage to say “I don’t know” can sometimes create trust more effectively than having the instantaneous answer.

3.  Paul A. Dillon, CMC, President/Owner, Dillon Consulting Services LLC; United States:

Trust is not a one-night stand. — Paul Dillon

In my more than thirty-five years in business, government, the military, academia, and the non-profit sector, here is how I’ve earned the trust of companies, colleagues, and clients:

Do what you say you’re going to do. Nothing builds confidence in your trustworthiness more consistently and unfailingly than doing what you’ve said you’re going to do. And, conversely, nothing destroys people’s perceptions of how trustworthy you are than failing to live up to your commitments.

The truth shall set you free.  Speak the truth, as you see it, forcefully and clearly. Don’t pander. Don’t worry about not being politically correct. Don’t worry about what other people might think. You can do this without being offensive, and people will see that you are worthy of their trust.

It isn’t about you; it’s about them.  This is the hardest part. In all of my working years, I have met only a handful of people who are truly committed to the welfare of others, even at their own expense. Most people are much, much too selfish. But, demonstrating to people that you put them first is absolutely critical to building trust and confidence in your ability to lead. You want to be somebody people would follow to a place where they wouldn’t go by themselves.

Trust is not a one-night stand.  It takes years to convince people that you are truly worthy of their trust and confidence. It is something that is built up slowly and consistently over a long time. So, get started now.

4.  Anita Campbell, Editor, Small Business Trends; United States

To instill trust, I try to treat people as I would like to be treated.  This shows up in ways big and small. — Anita Campbell

One thing: I never quibble over minor sums of money - just pay it.  For instance, when I pay via PayPal, I try to include an additional sum to cover any PayPal fee that may be charged to the recipient. It makes a nice difference to the recipient and costs me relatively little.  I also stand behind whatever I say, even if it is about something I spoke hastily about and later regretted.  Going back on my word is more costly than living up to something, even if I made a mistake and it costs me money.

Also, I go out of my way to make people feel professional, and I never try to gain an advantage at someone else’s expense. I feel there is plenty of room for everyone to be successful - it’s not a zero sum game. Unfortunately, we live in a time when people think it is perfectly OK to just blurt out some utterance and harshly criticize someone on the Web, using words and a tone they’d never use if they were speaking to someone one-on-one.  I would not like to be on the receiving end of such statements. I would feel blindsided. Anyone would.  So I try hard to temper my own statements so they are more thoughtful and measured.  I just try to cut people some slack.  Don’t we all deserve a little slack, some common courtesy?

Now the big question:  Do I always succeed?  No, I’m not perfect.  I just do the best I can.

5.  Patrick Molle, President, EMLYON Business School, educating entrepreneurs for the world; Founder, World Entrepreneurship Forum; France (Total disclosure:  I am a member of the World Entrepreneurship Forum):

When in doubt, I use time, personal intervention, and feedback to assess the extent of trust I will give. — Patrick Molle

The way I maintain trust in business is by focusing both on results and on continuous development.

Results: My conviction is that trust builds up every day and needs to be regularly nourished by concrete evidence that the partnership is working.

Continuous development: By setting higher targets all the time and sharing new dreams with our partners, I try to conduct a movement forward that attracts, retains and commits partners to support us.

Trust can be challenged, and crises might arise:  I consider it a normal part of life.  I do not try to avoid them, and I sometimes create them to clarify a situation. My experience shows me that, by holding position, even going through turbulent and difficult phases, these kinds of situations help me identify who I can or cannot really trust.

When in doubt, I use time, personal intervention, and feedback to assess the extent of trust I will give.

6.  Alan M. Webber, former editor and co-founder of Fast Company Magazine; former editorial director and managing editor of the Harvard Business Review; a columnist and author of a new book, “Rules of Thumb:  52 Truths For Winning At Business Without Losing Your Self“; United States.  (Note:  Watch for interview coming soon here on the OPEN Forum):

Stay alert.  There are teachers everywhere. ~ Alan M. Webber

Alan Webber reminds us that, when it comes to trust, be willing to change your mind about someone, and learn to trust yourself.

Straight from his new book:

Rule #52:  You simply have to stay open to what you’re hearing and be willing to listen and learn.  You may be with someone you’ve already written off when all of a sudden that person says something really smart, the kind of thing that makes you sit up like you just got hit between the eyes with a smart stick.  It may even come out of your own mouth and leave you wondering, “Did I say that?  I wonder where that came from.  I wonder if I could do that again.”  You won’t know if you’re not listening.

You need to be alert.  You need to pay attention.  You need to be ready.

Now, it’s your turn.  Are you ready? Are you paying attention?  Do you think trust matters?  What do you do every day to get and keep trust?

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About the Author: Global business expert Laurel Delaney is the founder of She also is the creator of “Borderbuster,” an e-newsletter, and The Global Small Business Blog, all highly regarded for their global small business coverage.