Deborah Nixon Headshot

The Five Cs of Building Trust in Business

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How often have you been burned by a business or personal relationship? I'll bet it happens more often than you want to admit. Do you get more cautious and wise? Research says that you do, as our levels of trust have been on the decline since the 1960s.

What does this mean for you, especially if you are trying to do business with a colleague or a company? More importantly, what if somebody wants to do business with you? You know that they have likely had a similar experience. They are now judging their interaction with you based on their past. Seems unfair, doesn't it? All of a sudden, you find yourself wading through their cynicism, suspicion and doubt as you try to convince them that you're not like that.

What does it mean to build a relationship of trust with somebody? I've been thinking about this because I'm preparing a speech I am delivering to 450 financial advisors about how to build better relationships with clients. It's a tough topic because of the high level of distrust that the public has in financial services. In fact, the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer ranks trust in financial services at 46 per cent, with advisors ranking the lowest in this sector.

There are many theories for the low numbers; the 2008 crash, the Bernie Madoff affair, and continuing fraud and scandals in the sector. My 2007 doctoral dissertation focused on the Role and Meaning of Trust in Financial Institutions. There is a clear and significant issue in the investment side of the financial sector. However, the lack of trust existed long before these events occurred and is rooted in shifts in the norms and expectations of we have of others. We seem to be conflicted; on the one hand we're cynical yet we continue to try to connect with others.

We have high expectations of personal relationships, but we distrust organizations and authorities. We want to get closer and to really get to know people. The anonymity of our world propels us to come together while we drift further away from each other. Just look at the behaviour that anonymity brings out in people; people whom you know and would never expect to be negative, selfish or mean. From being cut off in traffic to being pilloried on social media to being treated rudely by service people. It seems like it's all around you.

How do we create meaningful relationships-business and personal -- in the midst of this kind of doubt? There are three things which people want out of an interaction with somebody: Safety, Security, and Support. First, you want to know that you will be safe. You want assurances of physical safety but also emotional safety. Secondly, you look for security in ensuring that your possessions and your assets are not at risk. People don't want to worry that in dealing with you, they have to wonder if their money or their property will be there tomorrow. Finally, you want to know that you're supported. People want somebody to take the time to really listen to them and pay attention to what they're saying.

It's all about trust. Such a basic thing and yet it's so hard to develop. It's tough because trust is built in small, repetitive actions. Contrary to what people think, trust (and broken trust) rarely happens as a result of a major life event. Trust is built in what I call the five Cs of attitude and behaviour. It's in the commitments you keep (or don't); it's in your candour (or lack of it), in your consistent behaviour and actions (or in not coming through), your caring for others (or being self-centred), and your credibility (or deceit). It's about doing this, day in and day out; about being in harmony with what you say, what you do and what you believe. If you want to build trust, in any relationship, you need to live, breathe and act out the 5 Cs. There is no shortcut and no easy path. If you've broken trust, the road back is not guaranteed and is long and painful.

For financial advisors; there is no secret sauce. Relationships are about trust and trust is about relationships. Remember that we are all operating in an environment of caution and reluctance. The only way to overcome that is to remember the basics of Commitment, Candour, Consistency, Caring and Credibility. Nothing more, nothing less.