Building, and deserving, trust

Many of us systematically destroy our credibility with ‘harmless’ lies

Believe it or not, I can tell time, even with analog clocks. I’ll bet you can too. Why do so many people assume we don’t have that ability? How often do you hear, “This will only take a minute”? A half-hour later or more, the “minute” still isn’t over. Why wouldn’t they just give us a real estimate of how long it will take and set the proper expectation?

Another example: “When is the meeting, so I can follow up with you after?” I answer the question, but never expect the follow-up. It’s like a malaise; so many people make commitments unnecessarily, and so few actually fulfill them. It’s like demonstrating unreliability has become fashionable.

Regardless of our professions, the single biggest challenge any of us face is being genuinely believable. No matter how impressive our talents and skills may be, if people don’t trust us, it’s all for naught.

Yet so many of us systematically destroy our credibility with what we think are harmless lies. If your “minute” lasts over 30, do you really think I or anybody else will believe anything else you say?

If you deal with customers, your biggest challenge is making them believe you have their best interests at heart. You’ve got to appear more interested in their welfare than in your profit. It’s not easy, but those who succeed do very well.

For most of us, the only solution is to be genuinely interested in their welfare. Unfortunately, that even means recommending they not use our product or service when we can see it’s not in their best interests. Some managers hate this idea, but it builds credibility like nothing else, especially since there are so few who do it. Just don’t ever betray that trust.

I’ve never heard anyone say they’re looking forward to going to their dentists. Let’s say you go in for a routine checkup, tooth cleaning, that sort of thing. Your dentist has just retired and sold his practice, so this is a first-time experience with the new dentist.

They do X-rays and discover a couple of surprise cavities that need to be filled. You make an appointment and come back the following week, not looking forward to it at all. Just before starting, the new dentist explains a tooth may have to be extracted.

“Huh? Where did this come from? Why didn’t you tell me that last week?”

“I did tell you.”

“No, you didn’t! You even gave me a written quote, and a tooth extraction is not on it. I want a second opinion.”

I’ll spare you the details of the conversation. This is a new dentist to this patient. There has been no time to build a trusting relationship. Maybe she’s telling the truth, or maybe she’s having trouble paying the help and the rent. There seems to be no trouble getting an appointment any time. She’ll make a lot more money pulling and replacing a tooth than she will just filling one. What would you do?

The real question is not about competence, but about intent. Does she have your interest at heart or hers? She could well be the best dentist in New England, but if you can’t trust her, it’s all for naught.

If business is bad, she may be trying too hard to rake in the dough. If the second opinion fills the cavities without incident, she becomes a multi-times loser. Not only will she never see that customer/patient again. He or she may tell friends. All those expensive degrees and training without trust are worthless. As things get more desperate, the pressure is on to soak the next victims more and more. Can you see where this is going?

“The second opinion, who was very highly recommended, couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to pull any of my teeth. He filled one cavity; the second didn’t need filling.”

It’s true. There are no jobs until somebody sells something. But even more important than selling is building trust. Without it, you may get a sale or two, but you’ll never be prosperous. Take the high road. It’s the only way to lasting success.

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or

Categories: Business Advice