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The Anatomy of Trust

We’ve all heard it….” just trust me.” Like that is supposed to make you jump on board when someone says it. It always falls short, and as the neuroscientists tell us, there is good reason. It turns out that your entire nervous system and brain is wired to always scan the environment and every person, and ask one question before any other: is it safe? The answer to that one question, a decision that begins in milliseconds, can determine the future of a relationship, a deal, or even an entire company.  The reason? Because trust triggers a signal to our entire being that says “move towards.” When we trust, we move towards the person, the deal, the company, or whatever it is we trust. When we don’t, we get a very strong message in the opposite direction: “Move away.” Every day, in a thousand ways, with every business and personal encounter, we are either deciding to move towards or move away. And in business, trust is everything. We want people to move towards us, to trust us, because trust fuels investment. Whether with your customer or your team, your partner or your employees….you want them to invest their hearts, minds, energy, and resources with you. For them to make that investment, and make it freely, you must deliver trust….and not just once, but over and over. So, the question becomes, “How? What is trust made of? What drives it and what derails it?” As a leadership coach and consultant, I have seen over and over, that people who generate deep trust deliver in five key areas…which I like to say makes up the “anatomy of trust.”

Trust Is Built Through Understanding‍
Someone is going to trust you when they think and feel like you understand them and their needs. Instead of just persuading them, a key sales error as a first step, seek first to understand them. That requires listening….real listening. Listening without an agenda… they know at a very subconscious and visceral level that you “get them.” This takes not only “active listening,” but a deeper listening that is hallmarked by curiosity. This requires that you are not listening with an answer already in your head, but looking for the reality that they live in. When they feel like you are truly interested in their needs and their reality, that you truly understand their business….they take a step towards you. In a word, it says, “You care, and want to understand.” No one wants to invest with someone who is clueless, or even neutral about their real needs. They want to invest when they know their needs are understood, as that begins to give confidence that those needs will be met.

Trust Is Built Through Knowing Intent‍
People will trust you when they feel your “intent,” or “motive” is for them. This goes way past just not being against them. This means that you are looking out for them and their best interest. They feel like you have their back, even when they are not asking for it or knowing that they need it. The more that people feel like you are not just in it for yourself, and your interests only, but are showing up to serve their interests…wanting them to win and wanting the best for them at all times, they will move towards you. They will have an anticipation that you want to deliver for them because you want to. You desire their best, and they feel it. Knowing motive, or intent, is like jet fuel for trust.

Trust Is Built Through the Ability‍
Ok….so what if I feel like my doctor really understands me….he or she really gets how this knee injury hurts every day, and is making my life miserable? He “gets it.” And, what if I really feel like his motive is truly to help me…he is not just trying to find out how much he can bill me, or get me out as fast as he can so he can play golf. His intent is for my best. Do I trust him then and say “Great, Doc! Please do the surgery!” It depends….what if he said back to you, “Cool….I’ve always wanted to do one of these. You will be my first!” We do not continue to move towards…in fact, we run for the door. Even from someone who understands and has good intentions. To trust him, we need to know that he has the ability to perform the surgery….the capacity to deliver what I am trusting him to deliver….a successful outcome. I have to feel like he knows what he is doing, has done this before, and will do it well for me. We only invest in great ability. Can you do what I need you to do? Can your product? Can you as a leader lead us where we need to go? How the answers to those questions are felt is key to a “moving towards” step of further investment.

Trust Is Built Through Character‍
We all know that character counts….but what builds trust goes way past the “permission to play” character traits such as honesty, integrity, etc. If someone is not honest or cheats or steals, that is automatically a disqualifier, but the absence of those traits does not equal trust. Trust requires more.  To trust someone, we are scanning also to see if they have particular character traits that are relevant to what we are entrusting them to do. We want a Navy SEAL to not only be honest but also to have courage. In a different context, we want a nurse to have compassion. We want a business leader to have perseverance in the face of obstacles….a drive to get to completion….to win. We want an advisor to have objectivity and wisdom….to not be reactive. We want a leader to be calm in a crisis. To engender trust, make sure that you are demonstrating the kind of character needed to trust you in the context you are asking for trust. It must be seen and felt for someone to move towards you.

Trust Is Built Through A Track Record‍
We trust someone based on “last time.” What happened the last time I depended on them for this? Did it happen? Did they come through? Did they care? Did they deliver? On time? Or did they fail me? Did they come through with what I needed? A person will trust you not based on what you say you are going to do, but what you have actually done. We trust ourselves in our intentions…..others trust us in our actual behavior. Explaining our intentions when we fail someone is not going to engender trust. We must deliver.  Notice that I said “track record.” This means over time. If you have a track record of always delivering, then you miss a day, the immediate response by the other is, “Are you ok?” When you don’t show up, they wonder if all is well with you, because you always show up. If you have established a pattern of coming through, you can make a mistake. But if you have a pattern of mistakes or not delivering what was expected, all the words in the world will not make up for it. “Just trust me” means nothing. Delivering a track record means everything. Trust Truly Is Everything Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff says it well…”if trust is not your number one value….it’s over.” He is right. Trust drives everything….so make sure you always do more than just say, “trust me” Instead….seek to understand, have good intent, show up with true ability, embody character, and make this next time a win for the track record. If you do that, you will go a long way towards a “moving towards” response.

Cheers!  Dr. Henry Cloud