When standing in a room full of professional speakers, author and CEO of the Trust Edge Leadership Institute, David Horsager, cites that, “Communication is never the core issue. Trust is.” Whether in presentations with a large audience, engaging with students in the classroom, or building rapid rapport with individuals – establishing trust is foundational – moreso than the strategy or vision to make the message more effective.
Trust is a process that needs to become continually revised. The Trust Outlook is an annual study that looks into and determines how trust impacts various industries around the world while also establishing intrigue around how people establish it and lose it in their relationships. In 2020, 80% of Americans cited in the study that they would not follow an individual that they do not trust. 8 out of 10 people mentioned in that study indicated that they would not refer services, products, and the sales materials of others that they do not trust to others. Even amid sales, trust is foundational as a process to establish buy-in and win over an audience.
One of the most frequently asked questions in various contexts of communication programs — from American business executives to international leaders of all sectors — is how to get to the point. People and their teams know that when they ramble, they lose their audience’s attention and their ability to make a persuasive point. The current research shows that people trust clarity and distrust what is ambiguous or overly complex. A person might not be trusted because they’re not clear about their vision. A manager might not be trusted because they’re not clear about expectations. A salesman might not be trusted because they’re not clear of the benefits of their product or service.
Clarity is especially important when speaking to an unfamiliar audience that has no prior knowledge of your work; clear communication lets our competency shine through. We achieve this by identifying the goal of our presentation in advance and then using a clear structure with logical transitions to achieve that goal. Then, we read our presentation out loud and ask ourselves if it will make sense to our audience, adjusting it until it does.
Trust is much easier to build, enter into, avoid, or repair if we know what to look for.
Not feeling appreciated was the top reason people reported for leaving a job in the 2018 Trust Outlook. One of the ways we can demonstrate compassion is through appreciation when at home, on the job, or having a community outing. We need to ask ourselves, “How do I demonstrate that I care about those around me?”
There are a few ways we can project compassion. When we use more inclusive language such as “We did this together” instead of “I did this for you,” we draw the audience in. When we put ourselves in our audience’s shoes and empathize with how they feel, then we make them feel heard and understood. Compassion is also about spending time with others before being prepared and organized, showing we care enough about our audience to prepare content that is relevant to them. The compassionate individual consistently uses language such as, “So what this means to you is…”
Researcher Roderick M. Kramer instructs us that trust can be both positive and negative:
Human beings are naturally predisposed to trust – it’s in our genes and our childhood learning – and by and large it’s a survival mechanism that has served our species well. That said, our willingness to trust often gets us into trouble. Moreover, we sometimes have difficulty distinguishing trustworthy people from untrustworthy ones. At a species level, that doesn’t matter very much so long as more people are trustworthy than not. At the individual level, though, it can be a real problem.
Everything depends on trust. Whether good or bad, our experience with trust can be a mixture of both – but we can seek to create more positive experiences with it.
One of the ways we inspire trust is by demonstrating that we know how to get things done. Whenever we speak, our audience is evaluating not only whether we believe in what we’re saying but also whether we are capable of doing it.
We can project competency in many ways when we interact with others. We can demonstrate knowledge of our topic by either using examples from our own experience or sharing current trends that are occurring. We also demonstrate competency by investing in our communication skills so that we present a cohesive, persuasive reflection during our dialogue with others.
Professor and researcher Paul Zak of Claremont University indicates that sharing stories will tap into the emotions of our audience, producing oxytocin in their brains and leading to a feeling of trust and connection. Using stories is a powerful way to introduce yourself while connecting to a new audience, because it’s through shared values that the audience starts to connect with you on a personal level. Read more here.
What personal examples can you share in your interactions? Share stories with a specific focus on stories that demonstrate transparency and vulnerability. In the 2020 Trust Outlook, 92% of employees said they would trust their senior leader more if that leader would be more transparent about their mistakes. There are nuances here, of course: this doesn’t mean that transparency equals trust, because confidentiality is also trusted. However, we relate more to someone’s challenges than to their capabilities.
Even though this trust competency is last, it’s actually one of the most important. What makes a powerful individual in the classroom, at home, or in the workplace will not be elaborate oratory skills. Instead, it’s the ability to be the same confident, authentic individual on stage in front of 100 people as also in front of a group of five people.
Does your message constantly change or does it remain consistent? Are your actions consistent with your words? Trust goes beyond a brand or a logo, it’s how an audience feels within every interaction. In order to demonstrate consistency, we need to be prepared and intentional about both our words and our actions. Consistency is how we build a positive reputation, both on a team in a classroom as well as individual level.
These five competencies are not easy to build, however once you make them standard practice in your relational style, they will become easier to include. When you take time to prepare a presentation, speech, or difficult message, take time to ask yourself how you are building trust with your audience. The results will have a massive and positive impact on culture, team morale, productivity, and daily life outcomes.