How to build and maintain trust


Warren Buffett is a very rich man.  He is widely regarded as the most successful investor in the world, and an excellent judge of people as well as their businesses. In deciding whether he will  do business with people, apparently he asks himself 3 questions.

Do I like these people? And Do I trust them? Do I respect them?

Trust is hard to rebuild once it has been broken. In this article I’ll examine how trust can be built and maintained, and suggest a few simple strategies.

Firstly, be predictably reliable. If we go to McDonalds for a meal we are anticipating a certain predictable experience. We know what we will and won’t be getting. It is reassuring to know that we can predict the taste experience, quality of service, price etc and that it is reliably delivered, every time.  As creatures of habit when we chose our regular favourite restaurants this is generally because we have found predictability about the service they provide.  They have shown themselves to be reliable purveyors of the type of eating experience that we have chosen.  Their consistency and reliability is predictable, and as a consequence we trust them to deliver in accordance with our expectations.

In our personal and workplace relationships the same applies. If you have a repeated experience when dealing with another person, you are likely to anticipate their behaviour in future encounters. So if you find someone gives you a fast, friendly and efficient service upon first dealing with them you will anticipate a similar experience next time. Provided your expectations are met, and their behaviour is consistent, you will start to predict their behaviour, and trust that it will be a certain way.

In our personal social and business dealings with people, the extent to which they are consistent and reliable will determine the extent to which you can predict their behaviour. If you want to be trusted by others, make sure that your behaviour is predictably reliable.

You may be thinking that predictability sounds pretty boring. You may fancy being spontaneous and you might think that this makes you more interesting.  Certainly it is likely to make you more challenging to deal with.  And what does your unpredictability do to trust?

So what do you do if you want to change something or be different for a change?

If the predictability rule in building trust is “no surprises” then we had better communicate our intentions if we intend to change something.  Give people the “heads up”. If McDonalds decide to make a change without communicating about it, preferably in advance, they risk upsetting loyal customers and maybe losing them forever. If a friendly and efficient colleague bites your head off next time you deal with them, or gives you some other uncharacteristic response without explanation, they risk damaging your trust. You might be their boss and the damage could be serious. So the second rule in building and maintaining trust is if you change something - communicate about it.

That means writing to regular customers or displaying posters to explain changes. Long standing customers are likely to have their trust damaged if price rises are introduced arbitrarily without warning or explanation. The friendly and efficient colleague will need to let others know they are having a bad day, or that they have a backlog or whatever reason or explanation is appropriate to explain their inconsistent behaviour. By acknowledging and explaining the change we are showing consideration for others and recognising the relationship of trust that has been built and which we wish to maintain.

Communication is incredibly important when it comes to building and maintaining relationships. If you want others to believe in your message you may need to repeat it over and over. By repetition, over time, messages become believed.  Authentic consistent communication leads to trust. If your words match your actions, over and over, your communication will have authenticity and believability and people will trust you.  Trust is built and maintained by consistent authentic communication.

© Barbara Capstick

April 2012.