Why trust is poorly understood in business

Trust is poorly understood in business because it is also poorly understood in psychological and philosophical research. In fact, psychologists directly cite the dearth of research in this area as a handicap to applied learning in the field of interpersonal relationships.

I have researched this topic for over a year and I shudder at blog posts that aspire to teach leaders how to develop a trust message. There is, in fact, no such thing as a trust message. That’s because trust is principally established through non-verbal communication.

Imagine telling someone to trust you. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Did you ever watch a leader speak on television, and despite their clear and direct style, you still didn’t believe a word that person said? Unfortunately, telling the truth is not synonymous with instilling trust. Trust me.

Trust is far more emotional and elusive than confidence. Confidence is similar to competence, and we have many methods for assessing a person’s competency in any number of fields. Trust, however, has less certitude. Trust means that when we are most vulnerable, the other person (or institution), will not take advantage of us. However, since we can’t easily replicate the conditions of vulnerability, the trustor is never really certain of what the trustee will do in a moment of need.

In business, trust has always been essential for companies with intangible products, such as insurance and investments. Convincing a prospect to trust an insurance salesman is one of the hardest jobs there is.

To be certain, salespeople do not rely on a trust message.  In fact, salespeople are oftentimes the only ones in business who accurately understand that trust is established through listening. The only way an insurance salesperson makes a living is by becoming a highly effective listener. You might not think that salespeople listen, but they do.

As Zig Ziglar, the master questioner, taught so many of us, the bridge of trust is built through understanding. He passed away recently and like so many others, I can hear his voice in my head and vividly recall his stories, his humor, and his warmth. He genuinely loved getting to know other people, and that’s what he was trying to teach all of us.

A discussion on the topic of trust is incomplete without mentioning Stephen Covey, who taught these essential lessons before they became vogue. Trust, he said, is established through listening and demonstrating empathy.  He called it “empathetic listening,” you can read my blog post about that here.

And that is why trust will never be a message.

To improve business’ understanding of trust, we have to improve an institution’s ability to listen to its customers and employees. It’s not easy, which is why I’m writing a book about it.

Please share your insights about trust, institutional trust, and communicating trust. I will respond to all comments and look forward to the conversation.

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