The Trust Equation: What's your strength?

By Charles H. Green

Trusted Advisor Associates


Perhaps the most common trust misconception in business is that trust is mainly a function of credibility and reliability. Most professional and financial services people believe this, because, after all —“that’s what my clients tell me.”

“If your clients and prospects trust you, they are more likely to take your advice and buy from you.”

You probably agree with that statement, but is it just a nice generality? Is it meaningful in any useful way? What can you do with it? The Trust Equation may answer your question.

The Trust Equation

To be precise, the Trust Equation is an equation for trustworthiness: a way of calibrating how much other people trust you.

Trustworthiness =    (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy)
Where:                                   Self-Orientation

Credibility = can I believe what you say?
Reliability = can I depend on your actions and your word?
Intimacy = can I feel secure and safe sharing information with you?
Self-Orientation = how much of your attention is self-focused, not on me?

Notice that higher scores in the numerator increase your trustworthiness rating; a higher score in the denominator reduces your trustworthiness score.

Using the Trust Equation

You can learn a lot just by playing with it yourself. Using a scale of 1 to 10 for each factor, score yourself as you think others see you. If you’ve got the stomach for it, ask someone how they would score you.

Score your firm’s best salesperson. Score your best friend. Score your spouse (but think twice before sharing your scores).

Misconceptions about trust

Based on this study, we can say some fairly specific things about trustworthiness. For example, who would you guess is considered more trustworthy — men or women? (answer at the end of this article).

Perhaps the most common trust misconception in business is that trust is mainly a function of credibility and reliability. Most professional and financial services people believe this, because, after all —“that’s what my clients tell me.”
Clients aren’t lying to you, at least not consciously or intentionally. But the truth is that they treat credibility and reliability as necessary, but not sufficient, conditions.

You have to have a certain level of credibility and reliability — or they won’t even consider you. But since everyone they consider has to have an entry level of credibility and reliability, those factors don’t end up being the decision-maker.

No, the trust decisions get made much more heavily on the perception of high levels of intimacy and low levels of self-orientation. People buy with their heart, then justify the decision with their brains. Few clients admit that they think emotionally, especially about money; but money is, in fact, one of the most emotional issues of all for most people.

Implications

The best way to be seen as trustworthy is to actually be trustworthy. Like sincerity, trustworthiness is pretty hard to fake; people sense phonies in their bones.

For example, if you are asked a tough question you don’t know the answer to, what should you say? The right answer is “I don’t know.” Saying you don’t know is far more believable than any tap-dancing; you get real credit for honesty.

Work on doing what you say you’ll do. Do not shy away from asking questions about feelings. Don’t fill every silence with your words.

Above all — practice really listening. While you’re listening, don’t be thinking about what you’re going to say, or about the implications for your product. Just. Listen. Period.

The most powerful driver of trust is very simple: the sensation that the other person cares. You’ve heard this one before:

People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. That’s true, and I’ve got the data to prove it.

(Answer: Women. And I’ll bet you knew that.)

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