While many of us intellectually understand the importance of building trusting relationships, we don’t always demonstrate it.
Consider the case of Cathy. She was recently appointed as VP responsible for relationship management for her firm’s largest client. The interactions between the client and her predecessor became rocky and she must quickly smooth things out and prove that her company can provide value added products and services. The fact that her company was voted by an industry panel as providing “best in class” products doesn’t carry enough weight. It’s all about building a trusting relationship so that the customer feels their needs are being met.
And then there’s Derek. He just joined a major retailer and is tasked with turning around their relationship with their franchisees which has become contentious over the past several years. The company is trying to convince the franchisees to invest money in upgrading their stores and provide new menu options, but he first must restore trust that the marketing strategies will drive traffic and increase revenue. Derek is not fully convinced that the company has the right plans, but he needs to quickly understand their needs and make sure there is proper alignment.
Cathy and Derek are preparing for their first meetings with their respective stakeholders. In addition to learning the business challenges, studying market analytics and reviewing contractual provisions, they need to quickly build trusting relationships.
Each of us have similar situations that play out in our interactions on a regular basis. Because trust is the foundation of all human interactions, we must pay particular attention to ensuring that we demonstrate to others that we value them. There are six steps that facilitate the process to build solid relationships.
- Understand trust triggers. Each of us have touch points that will trigger an increase or decrease in the level of trust that we have for those with whom we’re interacting. A trigger could be failure to listen to the details we want to provide on an issue, failure to acknowledge our experience level or not respecting our need to share the context for certain situations. For example, one of my coaching clients has a need to spend 5 to 10 minutes at the beginning of every meeting talking about family and personal activities. He needs to reaffirm the relationship and get comfortable. Another coaching client sits down and quickly shares a concern that is bothering her, and we go from there. At our initial meetings, I had to listen to each one and learn their communication style, then adjust my own to build that initial trust. If I didn’t pay attention to these triggers, it would negatively impact my ability to support their growth.
- Learn passion points. Each of us have an underlying motive for the work that we do; a sense of what drives us and shapes our values. It may be finding new ways to use technology to solve problems, ensuring fair treatment in the workplace or finding a competitive advantage to whatever product you’re marketing. In many cases, their decisions emanate from this basis. Thus, it’s important to spend time getting to know colleagues by understanding why they have chosen their line of work, what’s fulfilling about it to them and what parts of their roles are most rewarding. Once you have a better sense of this, you can target your conversation to these aspects of their work to demonstrate respect and forge an alliance.
- Encourage their work. I’m fortunate to have many colleagues who are doing amazing work in a variety of fields. I admittedly don’t have the depth of information to understand all of it, and some parts simply don’t require me to understand it. But, if I care about them, I’ve found that I can easily take a moment to encourage them. Sometimes this involves taking 15 minutes to help them analyze an interpersonal situation to find a way to better handle it. Other times it’s a listening ear to empathize with their challenges and urge them to stick with it. Either way, they know that I care about them.
- Observe good body language. How do you feel when you sit down to talk with a colleague and they keep watching their phone, fiddling with an object or looking over your shoulder to see who else is in the room? These behaviors tend to cut the conversation short, minimize the level of sharing and weaken the relationship. In fact, 10 minutes of focused attention is better than 30 minutes of distraction. We all know that our body language is important in building relationships, but we too frequently fail to manage it. Good eye contact, leaning in, full body alignment and clarifying the amount of time for the conversation are critical components of making sure the other person feels that this interaction is important to you.
- Repeat what you heard. Good listeners pay attention to what is being said and can repeat it. This reaffirms that you heard the person and provides an opportunity for mutual clarification and understanding. It also gives you time to think about what was said so you can respond thoughtfully. You may immediately have an answer to the person’s issue, but if it were that easy, they would have thought of it. Often there is a deeper challenge that needs to be discussed and teased out. They want to be heard. They want to be respected. They want to find their own solution, but you can aid them along the way.
- Do what you say. Say what you’ll do. Be authentic. Deliver on your promises. Avoid vague statements. Clarify the things you can and can’t control. Keep confidences. Ensure your behavior aligns with the fact that you truly care about their concerns.
Continuous attention to these six steps will enable Cathy and Derek to establish a foundation of trust and confidence with their stakeholders, that they can build upon to address their business challenges.