By BRIAN BABCOCK
First published in the Globe and Mail, May 30, 2003
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Trust me. I know
what's good for you. Trust me. I'm telling the truth. So why don't you
trust me? It's simple: Until it's earned, trust is just a word.
It's also an essential
tool in building the fundamentals of a great business -- the linchpin
that secures relationships with customers, colleagues and staff.
probably think of yourself as trustworthy. But are you sure you're trusted?
Trust, after all, depends on the perception of others, something we
can't control completely.
However, there are
elements to trust that become levers of influence, which, in turn, shape
What are they? There
are many, but these five offer a powerful head start to the vigilant
Consistency of Behaviour
Mistrust is often born in inconsistency.
Do you promise one
thing and deliver another? Show up late for meetings? Forget appointments?
Snap at colleagues, or employees, or clients? And then dismiss your
erratic behaviour with comments like, "I haven't had my coffee
this morning," or "I've had too much coffee this morning."
Such excuses can stop us from addressing our inconsistent, sometimes
rude, conduct. Indeed, in the extreme, they can mask passive-aggressive
behaviour. How can anything but skeptical suspicion be the outcome of
that? Interestingly, an occasional positive inconsistency -- such as
a surprise reward for a good job -- will work to reinforce the trust.
Caring for Others
This contains two components worthy of attention: Sincere praise and
Sincere praise is
wonderful food for the ego. For one thing, it carries an automatic feeling
of polite civility. More importantly, it elevates esteem and creates
the desire for others to achieve the goals before them.
in its extreme, can be taken so far as accepting mistakes as another
way to learn. Simple mistakes should neither be ridiculed, nor overplayed
and taken out of context. We liberate others to take risks when we treat
them as responsible adults and acknowledge their accomplishments.
Taking Risks with
If we risk wholeheartedly and blindly, we could be exploited.
The world does, after all, have selfish and manipulative people. The
alternative, not to risk, creates it's own kind of hazard. If we withhold
our thoughts and feelings, we can fail to disclose our best personal
traits. That limits the potential for mutual gains.
Risk, then, is a
matter of good judgment and balance.
We should carefully
assess the nature of short- and long-term relationships, examine our
own fears and blind spots and assess other peoples willingness to bridge
the gap of their emotional or financial vulnerability. How do we do
Ask questions that
clarify: 'Let me repeat what I think you're saying.' 'Can I be clear
about my interests?' 'How do you feel about this idea?' It's only in
the harsh daylight of feedback that we can assess others willingness
to invest, either emotionally or financially.
Equal Effort or
Even in a short-term
relationship, we must perceive that equity exists if trust is to develop.
There are classic examples of exploitation with carefully crafted legal
documents that even though mutually agreed, play out with one-sided
bias. If these agreements are not renegotiated with balance and attention
to equal effort, senseless damage to integrity can follow.
Consider this example:
Following the close of the sale of a significant business, the purchaser
discovered that due diligence was inadequate. There was a large shortfall
in earnings and because of the formula used to define the purchase price,
a substantial overpayment. When the vendor partners learned of the problem,
they renegotiated the final price to an equitable one. Trust -- and
their reputation -- was worth more to them than the extra dollars they
would deposit in the bank.
This element of
trust is the polar opposite to manipulation and scapegoating. In the
example above, the vendor partners made no excuses for the oversight.
They turned a potentially embarrassing situation into a trustworthy
They put aside what
was perhaps a legally defensible opportunity and chose to act responsibly.
Their behaviour gave new meaning to "responsible in your actions,
honour in your name."
If developing trust
is hard work, damaging it is easy. Ignore any of the five elements and
you could unravel the very relationships that keep your enterprise moving
toward the fundamentals of success.
And if you think
that stretching the demands of a relationship can be put right with
a little charm or good humour, think again. While wit and humour are
constructive in a trusting relationship, they merely exacerbate damaged
According to U.S.
psychologist and author Dennis Waitley's "five times" rule,
damaged trust can only be fixed by exacting a five-fold effort. So it's
well worth protecting trust where it exists and building it where it
To determine whether
you practise these elements of trust, ask yourself:
Is my behaviour
predictable and consistent?
Do I care for others?
Do I praise sincerely and accept other people worthy of my esteem?
Do I take risks
with others? Do I carefully and honestly assess the potential for a
Do I exact equity
and give equal effort? Do I openly communicate with honesty? Do I listen
with the intent of promoting equity?
Do I behave responsibly
or am I quick to find fault with, or even blame others?
When trust is damaged,
do I commit to a five-times effort to ensure that it's rebuilt?
By isolating these
elements of trust, you'll master the use of a tool that builds relationships
in your business and your life. You'll control important levers that
transform perceptions. And you'll become the essence of trustworthy
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