Trust is an aspect of leadership that is central to The Human Side of Business – as you’ve probably noticed by all of the world-class thought leaders who write on the topic here at OPENfor.business. And here’s the thing about trust: you can drive a truck between the crooked politico who asks you to trust them with your vote, and the human relations expert who advises you how to build genuine, lasting trust with your staff, your peers, your customers, and your community.
One is trying to sell you a bridge. The other is trying to build a bridge between you and those around you, for the betterment of all.
But how about you? Maybe you haven’t written a book on the topic of trust, but certainly the intertwined issues of being more deserving of trust (the inner state of trustworthiness) and being perceived by those around you as a person they can trust (the outer state of actually being trusted) – you likely feel one can always do better; I think we all do.
So please, don’t inadvertently blow it with two simple words that often send others fleeing for the exit.
Those two words? “Trust me.”
Years ago I saw a movie that forever ruined that popular phrase for me. The movie was Blaze, the story of romance between burlesque dancer Blaze Starr (Lolita Davidovich) and Louisiana governor Earl Long (Paul Newman). At the very start of the movie, as Davidovich’s young character is about to hop a bus out of rural West Virginia and off to adventure, her mother sets up a theme repeated throughout the film:
“Never trust a man who says ‘Trust me.’”
Remembering this warning, when the still-15-year-old Blaze hears it from her would-be agent as he prepares to seduce her, she climbs out a bathroom window, never looking back.
Then, on the night when Starr and Long meet, the following dialog ensues:
Starr: “Can I trust you?”
Long: “Hell no!”
Starr (whispering to herself): “What a wonderful thing to say.”
I don’t recommend this movie for young kids, but I just re-watched it with my 84-year-old mother, who loved it. See it with your mom if you like, but more importantly, make this movie an integral part of your firm’s new hire orientation, and especially bake it into your sales training program. Ban the phrase “Trust me” from your organization’s lexicon. So too with synonymous phrases such as “Believe me,” “To be honest,” …all that stuff. Just toss it all.
Being deserving of trust is something we live, not something we say about ourselves. Do you tell people you’re good-looking? Funny? Smart? (Okay, people do this last one quite often in business, I’ve noticed, but I’ve also observed that those are the people others mock behind their backs.)
To put a spin on Margaret Thatcher’s famous “power and lady” quote:
“Being trustworthy is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”
So how do you ban this phrase throughout your organization? You may have noticed, I’m not a big fan of compelling behavior through bribes and punishment – not only is it coercive, but both of those things are so incredibly ineffective that often they bring you the opposite result: that’s how much people detest being told what to do.
What I recommend instead is to make “Trust me” a running joke, thus knitting the soft ban right into your culture. For instance, I picked up a T-shirt recently that reads, “Trust me, I’m a superhero” which I wear on Skype sometimes, depending on the person I’m meeting. If yours isn’t a t-shirt-friendly workplace, you can try phrases like, “Trust me, you’re gonna love this used car” or “Trust me, I’m a Wall Street banker” or “a reality TV star running for president,” or… you get the idea.
My own painful experience with this conversational crutch came to me one fateful interview very early in my career when I kept answering the boss’s questions with, “To be honest….” It was as uncontrollable just then as a stutter! Finally he looked at me with furrowed brow, squared his shoulders, and said, “You keep saying ‘To be honest.’ Do you typically have a habit of not being honest?”
Well, you can probably guess how quickly the interview wound down after that, and whether it ended in a job offer or not. Let’s suffice it to say I screwed up the signing bonus, but I did walk away with a priceless lifelong lesson.
My advice? Why put the doubt in their mind in the first place? Instead of asking others to trust you, show them with your actions, every day and in every setting, that they can.
Now that will transform your career. And a companywide ethic of showing trustworthiness will transform your entire business.