The post on Breaking Down the Barriers to Influence introduced a list of best practices that comprise an Influence Style or I-Style. The goal is to make these activities a natural part of your business (and personal) life in order to ensure you are continually enhancing your influence. Focus on Building Trusting Relationships tops this list because trust is at the heart of your ability to succeed in all the other I-Style activities.
Pop-Quiz: If you were asked to build trusting relationships with co-workers, vendors, prospects, clients, or managers, which set of behaviors would you apply to the task? Blue side or White side?
Hopefully this exercise was not rocket science (that means I hope you thought the White side is the obvious choice!). In general, it is easy to list out behaviors that either build trust or destroy trust. But when faced with a trying or spontaneously challenging situation, it’s equally easy to be spurred into non-trustworthy behaviors. Making a conscious effort to improve the ability to motivate others to take action creates a hyper-vigilance around demonstrating trust-building behaviors and avoiding actions and attitudes that tear down trust. Being Trustworthy is seen as the single most important aspect to earning the trust necessary to be influential.
By putting so much emphasis on being trusted by others, we tend to neglect or maybe aren’t aware of the second aspect of the trust building process: Trusting Others. Granting Trust is as important as Earning trust. It’s like an exercise in 9th grade logic: If, A. People are more likely to follow leaders they trust and B. People are far more willing to trust someone they know trusts them. Then, C. People are more likely to follow leaders who demonstrate trust in them. In the foreword to the book, Trust Rules: How to Tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys in Work and Life, Norm Blake, the former Chairman, President, and CEO of USF&G Corporation describes the two sides of the equation as such:
“Paramount to earning trust is consistently demonstrating that you are fair, honest, open, and competent. People need to know that you tell the truth and earnestly act on your principles and beliefs…Equally important to your ability to successfully turn a company around is being able to trust those you are dependent upon for making it happen.”
Being trustworthy is a product of behaviors. Trusting others is a matter of mindset. I had the pleasure of meeting Linda Stroh, the author of Trust Rules, at a launch event for her book .
As part of her presentation, she challenged us to use a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “totally unwilling to trust” and 10 being “totally willing to trust,” to rate how much we trust someone we’ve just met. Take a moment and consider how you’d rate yourself on that scale.
Some people tend to be on the lower end of the scale because they’ve been burned in the past by trusting too much too soon. For these folks, trust is a treasured gift they mete out conservatively. At the other end of the spectrum, are those who steadfastly adhere to the “innocent until proven guilty” philosophy and grant complete trust from the onset of a relationship. Linda Stroh points out that, “trusting too much is just as detrimental to our welfare as not trusting enough.”
The amount of trust we are willing to grant others is affected by our life experiences and the need for practical discernment. An effective strategy for trusting others is to adopt the mindset that there exists a common ground between others and us. Then, actively pursue that common ground with people you need to be able to trust. The strategy of Seeking Common Ground allows you to give people enough trust upfront so that the relationship can progress forward without making yourself too vulnerable to blind-faith in that person. Seeking CommonGround means identifying the mutually beneficial terms under which the relationship can exist.
Here is an example to demonstrate the process:
Devin is a sales person who has been burned badly by people in the past. His tendency is to not trust anyone until they’ve proven themselves worthy (which is an arbitrary test over the course of an indeterminate amount of time). He has been asked to partner with Sue from marketing on a project for a specific account. The team is on a tight deadline with little margin for error. They have to work together. Although Devin’s inclination is to be suspicious of Sue, he tries to find common ground upon which to start their working relationship. What do you think that would be? Maybe it’s a shared interest in helping the customer or a shared desire to see the project succeed. By finding this common ground, Devin can give Sue enough trust to earn her trust and to collaborate efficiently and effectively. During the course of the project, Devin can watch Sue’s behaviors, learn more about her character, and decide how trustworthy she really is. Alternatively, he can use the context of the project to demonstrate trust building behaviors to earn a deeper level of trust from her.
As part of the Seeking Common Ground strategy, I recommend leveraging tools such as the Trust Rules Questionnaire that Ms. Stroh developed based on extensive research. The tool helps you determine how trustworthy you perceive someone to be based on a set of twenty characteristics. It’s an excellent way to put some rigor around the usual vagueness of “gut instinct.”
Influence as a leadership asset hinges on our ability to earn trust and our willingness to prudently grant trust. This means we have to be intentional about our behaviors and use strategies such as Seeking Common Ground to lay strong foundations from which to build lasting relationships.