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How do you build (and rebuild) trust?

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

Trust is the foundation for everything we do. But what do we do when it's broken?

In her popular TED Talk from 2018 (below), Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei gives a crash course in trust: how to build it, maintain it and rebuild it.

Frances identifies three requirements needed that mean you are more likely to trust me:

  1. If you sense that I am being authentic

  2. If you sense that I have real rigor in my logic

  3. If you believe that my empathy is directed towards you

Trust is threatened when any one of these three begins to wobble.

Empathy wobbles

Frances describes empathy as the most common wobble in trust. When you see me distracted and not creating the time and space that empathy requires, you won’t believe I’m thinking of you or putting your needs first.

A vicious circle develops when I genuinely don’t have much time for you because modern life is busy, which impacts on the amount of empathy I’m showing, which means your trust in me decreases, which makes things harder, which means I need to spend more time with you, which I don’t have….

To resolve this, Frances’ prescription (apart from put away your phone!) can be taken as two questions:

1. Where, when and to whom am I likely to offer my distraction? (This should trace perfectly to where, when and to whom you are likely to withhold your empathy.)

2. What trigger or tiny habit can I adopt to counter this? (That gets you to look up and be present and attentive to the person in front of you and their needs.)

And I would add a third question to the prescription:

3. What does this person and/or situation need from me right now? (And if you don’t know, ask them.)

Logic wobbles

Logic wobbles can take two forms. The quality of my logic is flawed, or my ability to communicate sound logic is impaired.

To resolve this Frances again takes a simple and pragmatic approach, claiming that there are two ways to communicate in the world - and approach two is better....

  1. Tell the long and rambling story which eventually gets to the point.

  2. Start with your point in a crisp half sentence (the bottom line) and then tell the long and rambling story that got you there as supporting evidence.

Why this second approach?

You’ll get your message across immediately. Plus, if for any reason you get cut off before you’ve finished, your message is still communicated.

Authenticity wobbles

Human beings can tell in an instant whether someone is being genuine or not. Therefore in many ways the prescription is clear, says Frances: “be you”.

Of course that can be easier said than done, especially if you’re not around people like you, or people you know and trust. Sometimes “being you” can be hugely challenging.

Frances’s advice is two-fold:

  • To the individual - pay more attention to what makes you your unique and fabulous self, and less attention to what you think people want to hear or see from you.

  • To the leader - set the conditions in your organisation and teams that do more than simply make it safe for your people to be authentic – welcome it, celebrate it and cherish it!

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