Trust Is The Foundation Of Every Great Relationship

“For it is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest that holds human associations together.”
H. L. Mencken

A man was getting into the shower just as his wife was finishing up her shower when the doorbell rang. After a few seconds of arguing over which one should go and answer the doorbell, the wife gave up, quickly wrapped herself in a towel and ran downstairs. When she opened the door, there stood Bill, the next-door neighbor. Before she said a word, Bill said, “I’ll give you $800 to drop that towel you have on.”

After thinking for a moment, the woman dropped her towel and stood there naked. After a few seconds, Bill handed her $800 and left. Confused, but excited about her good fortune, the woman re-wrapped herself in the towel and went back upstairs. When she got back to the bathroom, her husband asked from the shower, “Who was that?” She answered, “It was Bill, the next-door neighbor.”

“Great!” the husband said. “Did he say anything about the $800 he owes me?”

Now you may think that’s a bit funny, or the story may even make you a bit angry. But the more significant truth is … there is a trust issue going on in all those relationships. And few things give more life to a relationship than trust, and few things kill off relationships more quickly than a lack of trust.

The good news is … trust can be a built. It’s the byproduct of your communication behavior.

To BUILD rather than BUST the trust in your personal and professional relationships, as a bare minimum, you must follow these 4 rules.

1. Take on a learning posture rather than come across as certain.

Those who come across as too “certain” or seem to “know it all” turn us off … because intuitively, we know that no one can know everything. In fact, the “know it alls” come across with a greasy, slimy “used car salesman” persona. They’re slick talking pests, who refuse to listen, won’t take “no” for an answer, and may not be all that honest.

Of course, as professionals we’ve all been taught to be confident, self-esteeming, and sure of ourselves. After all, we first have to believe in ourselves before we can sell our product or service. True enough. But there’s a difference between being confident (which can build trust) and overly certain (which can bust it). When you come across as overly certain, as though you’re always right, that makes the other person feel like she’s always wrong. And that feels rotten.

Oscar Wilde described the overly certain person as such: “He has no enemies but he is intensely disliked by his friends.”

A much better way to build trust is to adopt a learning posture. Instead of coming across with certainty and bravado, you build trust by being more interested in asking questions than making statements. You become more interested in your customer’s point of view than in declaring your own.

And as soon as you do that, you will notice that the communication turns from adversarial to conversational. Understanding becomes the name of the game rather than arguing, persuading, and trying to prove who’s right and who’s wrong.

It’s what a good doctor does. He adopts a learning posture. When he examines a patient, he is probably drawing on years of experience, hundreds of procedures, and thousands of exams. And even though he knows there may be similarities in the respiratory systems of each patient, he knows that each patient is unique and has to be examined from that perspective. So he might say things like, “I’ve done 3000 operations, and what amazes me is the fact I’ve never seen two that are exactly alike. I’d like to ask you some questions so I fully understand YOUR situation.”

How would you feel about the doctor’s approach? Would you feel annoyed … that he’s the doctor … that he should know what to do … that he shouldn’t waste your time with all these questions … that he should automatically know what’s wrong … and that he just go ahead and do the surgery? No, you would feel relieved that he wants to fully understand your unique situation, and your trust in him would go up dramatically and rise instantly.

The same principle applies to every part of your life. Quit acting so certain, that you know it all, and start acting like a doctor who adopts a learning posture, and you WILL build the trust in your relationships.

In a business situation, if you tell your prospective customer, “You must provide this service to your customers or you’re going to lose your customers,” your certainty will not engender trust. No one likes to be told what they HAVE to do. But if you adopt a learning posture and ask, “I’m wondering what feedback your customers are giving you when they ask for feature Y and you tell them you don’t have it.”

2. Show mutual respect rather than superiority.

For 40 years, Rodney Dangerfield made a living as a comedian telling people how he got no respect. And on some level, almost everyone could identify with him because almost everyone could use a little more respect at home or on the job.

It’s like the time Rodney turned 50 and asked his wife, “Do I look 50?” She said, “You used to.”

Of course, there are a thousand ways to express trust and thereby build trust. One simple way is to LISTEN when someone is talking. Instead of waiting for your turn to talk … or looking around for someone more important to spend time with, LISTEN. Giving your total attention to someone affirms their worth and shows your respect.

That takes TIME. And with today’s fast-paced, out-of-balance lifestyles, people are reluctant to take the time and really listen. Karl Zinmeister, the editor-in-chief at “The American Enterprise” magazine, says, “There is an old saying that goes, ‘Children have a special way of spelling love: T-I-M-E.’ What the very young hunger for more than anything else in the world, modern researchers confirm, is closeness with their mothers and fathers. Unfortunately, children are getting less of their parent’s time today than in any previous era. A favorite cartoon of mine suggests how far we’ve strayed. It shows a corporate type speaking to his secretary from behind a large desk. ‘I’ve decided to spend more time with my family,’ he announces. ‘See if you can find them.'”

If you’re going to build trust, you’ve got to show respect which is partly done through listening and taking time to be together. As writer and cleric Richard Exley pointed out, “Somehow, year after year, dad managed to take us on vacations he couldn’t afford to provide, in order to make memories we couldn’t afford to be without.”

Mutual respect also implies that both parties value one another’s talents, abilities, contributions, and ideas and they truly can learn from one another.

By contrast, superiority comes across as “I’m/we’re’ better than you.” In the business world, it may come across as “I’m the manager and you’re ‘just’ a secretary.” In the sales world it may come across as “Our system is clearly better than the inferior product you’ve been using.” Even if that was true, it would shame or embarrass your customer, which is hardly the right foundation upon which to build a trusting relationship.

When you feel like you’ve been treated as an “inferior” by someone using “superior” behavior, you may feel tempted to use them like a Slinkie. As one person said, “Slinkies aren’t really good for anything, but they still bring a smile to your face when you push them down a flight of stairs.”

3. Be open minded rather than closed minded.

If you’re open minded, you’re open to several ideas and options before you make up your mind. You not only come across as more thoughtful, reasonable, and intelligent, you are. You don’t jump to conclusions. You withhold judgment until comprehension is complete. So it’s no wonder it helps people to trust you when they see you as open minded.

It’s the same thing a good doctor will do. She will lay out the various treatment options for a patient, offering choices such as doing nothing, taking drugs, dong physical therapy, or having surgery. And typically she’ll offer a recommendation, saying which course of treatment has the highest probability of success. You tend to trust that doctor because of her open mindedness … versus a surgeon who always recommends surgery no matter what your ailment might be.

By contrast, those who exhibit closed mindedness are somewhat akin to those who exhibit certainty. There is only one right answer. There’s no need for discussion, research, reason, information, or debate. The closed-minded person might even brag, “Don’t confuse me with the facts. I know what I want. I know what I like. I know what’s right. Period! End of discussion.”

It could be the salesperson who tells the prospect, “You will find that this new model of our is the ONLY way to go. Nothing else makes any sense for your business.” It could be the spouse that says, “I don’t care what we can afford. I want it and I want it know.”

The truth is … you only build trust with someone else when you lay out several choices and explore the pros and cons of each. No one is “sold a bill of goods,” and everyone is open to the best possible solution.

Author Kent Nerburn learned the value of being open minded when he took a train ride across Canada. He noticed another passenger that everyone else avoided, because they all assumed the man was a drunk, based on his slurred speech and unstable walk.

But Nerburn began a conversation with the man and soon learned he was recovering from a stroke. The man was once an engineer and operated trains along the very tracks they were riding on. For the next several hours, he told Nerburn tales of the land they traveled through and the legends of people who once lived there. At the end of their conversation, the man thanked Nerburn for speaking with him. But it was Nerburn who was grateful for the experience. He was thrilled with all he had learned, all of which happened because he chose to be open minded. As Nerburn advises, “Take a chance. Like people first, ask questions later.”

4. Show empathy and care rather than distance and self-centeredness.

In other words, one of the best ways to build trust is to realize IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT ME. In fact, the more you seem to care about and fully understand the other, the more trust you will build.

That’s why economist and actor Ben Stein says, “Go home from work early and spend the afternoon throwing a ball around with your son.”

My speaker friend John Crudele has dedicated his life to speaking to and with teenagers, many of whom are craving more empathy and more caring from their parents. As he said in one of his high-school presentations recently, “Gentlemen, there is at least one of you in this room right now that would give ANYTHING if your dad would walk through that door and say ‘Son, I love you. I’m so proud to be your dad. I’m so proud to have you as my son.’ The fact is many of you will never hear that from your fathers because they can’t or won’t say it. The fact is, some of you boys wouldn’t recognize your own father if he walked in because you’ve never met him. That’s not condemnation; it’s reality.”

According to Crudele’s research, there is a lack of trust and a lack of a relationship between so many kids and their parents because the parents are distant and self-centered. They’re too focused on their projects to care about or get involved with their kids’ projects.

I agree. Before I became a full-time professional speaker, I worked in corrections with young men who were incarcerated or who had just been released from reform school. I listened to hundreds of their stories.

One young man who had been released told me, “You know, I’m the star athlete here. I play three sports and I play them all well. I’ve been playing since I was six years old. Want to know why? So my dad would be proud of me. Want to know how many games my dad has seen me play? Not one, ever! My mom is great. She takes me to all the tournaments. She’s there for me. I’ve already signed on to play professional hockey. I don’t have to wonder what I’m going to do with my life. But I tell you” he added amid his tears, “I would give it all up right now, ALL of it, if that man would walk in that door and look at me and tell me he loves me. Want to know how many girls I’ve been to bed with? About thirty-five or forty. And you want to know why? Because it’s the only way I have to prove to myself that I’m a man. No one has ever shown me another way.”

That’s just a sample of the damage caused when distance and self-centeredness trumps empathy and care.

By contrast, trust is built on empathy and caring … when it’s ALL ABOUT THEM … instead of being ALL ABOUT ME. To make sure you fall into that camp, in the business world you might ask yourself a few questions. Do you take the time to ask questions and listen to what your customer is thinking, feeling, and saying … and even to what he is not saying? Or do you rush in to tell him about yourself, your company, your product, and its features and benefits?

Also, submit yourself to the “best-friend test.” Ask yourself, “If I were my customer, would I do what I am about to recommend?” If you answer yes, you’ve passed the best-friend test. You’re showing empathy and caring, and you can be trusted.

Trust will go further and do more to build your personal and professional relationships than almost anything else. All you have to do is to go out there and build some using these four strategies.

Action:  Which of the 4 trust-building strategies needs more of your attention? Vow to do more of that … starting today.