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Building Trust in Business: A Coach’s Perspective

I was asked recently about how building trust in business with key stakeholders.  The question surprised me in that I have always espoused that integrity of word is one of
build trustthe strongest career development tools in your reach.  You tell people what you are going to do and then do it.  Simple, until asked then I knew that answer was not enough.  In any business there are there are well-known deal breakers.  But when there is a lack of trust between coach or OD consultant and the client, you are never going to get the real story.  The real story in their perspective is a critical starting point in recovery or change.  Change management has to be built in reality or it will fail.  The foundation on which all change management work happens when people are being quite vulnerable and talking about the possibility of things going terribly wrong or having already gone wrong.   Unfortunately when asked, I had not previously formulated an answer on building trust.  When I was asked, I stumbled through saying I don’t assume trust but I give the same trust and respect that is needed to be effective.  That did not seem meaty enough so I added that time and consistent behavior are large parts of the success of building trust.  The person nodded and it seemed to be enough of an answer to be considered complete.   Was it?

The question of how to build trust is often pondered but not really asked and rarely presented with a clear cut way to manage the process.   So I went to the authority on the subject; the dictionary.  Merriam Webster’s definition of trust in the relational sense is an assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.  The second definition is one in which confidence is placed.

Building trust is about something you cannot see when it is missing or even if trust is present.

building trust in business

The balance of building trust rests on the sum total of a series of behaviors or actions that culminate in a feeling of connection or trust.  As a consultant I need to work through a solid reputation of confidentiality, results and ease of doing business, but all that does not matter if not done quickly.

I believe there are three aspects you can control in the process of slowly building trust in business:

  • Listening to the point where you hear not only what they are saying, but what they are not saying.  What is really going on?   How will you know you are doing this?  I find the phrase “two ears and one mouth” as a ratio completely condescending.  But if you are talking you are not finding anything new.  Learn about open ended questions and learn how to rephrase any statement you ask as a yes or no question into a question that will evoke sharing by your team or the client.  Remember people do not remember as much about what you said as the way you make them feel.  If you have an open ear and a curious nature they will read that as caring and you will continue to build trust.
  • Share or show your knowledge – let them know that you have studied or do research on the topic.  I find it shocking that I have 30 years of studying communication.  That is something I rarely talk about.  My business experience transcends mass media seeking behavioral change with the right messaging, to individual purchase power at retail and behavioral change within the organization to increase or change performance strength.  I have a graduate degree and plenty of tangible experience.   Does that make me an expert?  Yes, it does.  Do I need to talk a lot about that?   No, but I do need to share stories, theory and ideas when appropriate to build their understanding of how I can contribute as a trusted partner.
  • Be reliable –  which was described to me early in my career as telling someone what you are going to do and then doing it.  Or in other words, make promises and keep them.  There are very few controllable behaviors that build your career equity more than keeping your word.   Even simply showing up can be considered an asset.  Think of the last time you needed a plumber and called several, with the first winner being the one that showed up.  But when you are showing up every day on the job that becomes the base line.  To be considered reliable you will want to show up prepared and prompt.   Within this category I included availability.  I don’t mean available to take a call 24 hours a day / 7 days a week, but respond in a timely manner.

How you show up is how successful you will be in the course of getting something done.  Building trust is only in your hands.   Your team does listen when you make promises.  We had a general manager back when cell phones were car phones, mounted, and with an antenna attached to the roof.  He laughingly said the entire sales team could get phones when we sold a million dollars.  We did, reminded him and got the phones.   He held his word.  I would work for him again in a heartbeat because he built trust.  Not just because he bought the phones but that was how he showed up.  He was tough, but true to his word.building trust

Even if you do it all right you have to allow one more factor to play an important role in the process of building trust in business.   Time works to your favor with consistency in behavior.   You cannot make it go faster or slower.   In leadership 101 you have to have build trust enough to enjoy the success you have earned thus far.  You started building trust before you were given responsibility that matters to the organization.  The truth is behavior and anything watched over time ebbs and flows.  But you can leverage time to consistently behave in a trustworthy manner to build trust.   They say the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.  The second best time is today.

When you want help identifying where trust is broken or what that looks like coaching can help.  If you need ideas on what behaviors can help build trust in business, contact Pat Weiland, Executive Coach and President at Sage Strategies.
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