Opinion: Trust has never been so hard to gain. Here’s how your business can earn it

Credit: Robin Higgins/Pixabay

In a world where people are more skeptical than ever, companies must do what they say—and say what they do

In his monthly column for BCBusiness, Richmond-based employee engagement and internal brand communications expert Ben Baker shares his insights into how to communicate value effectively, so people want to listen and engage. In the end, it’s about creating influence through trust.

The 20th annual Edelman Trust Barometer is out, and the results of this global survey of public trust in business, media, government and other institutions aren’t good. Everyone needs to ask why?

Why is trust so hard to gain and even harder to keep? Why is trust so important, and what does a lack of trust say about us socially, economically and as a species?

Over the past several hundred years, trust has gone from a given to a precious commodity. Now it’s something you need to work on every day to maintain.

So why is that? What is the one factor that has made us be less trustful of others and lose trust in people, companies and institutions? 

Access to information.

The more information we have at our disposal, the less trusting we seem to become. In centuries past, if someone told us the Earth was flat, we had no reason not to believe them. Today, when anyone can refute such an idea in seconds, the reasoning goes: If you aren’t telling me the truth about this, what else are you not being truthful about?

We think this way every day. Whether we’re dealing with individuals, companies, religious organizations or governments, our willingness to take statements at face value is shrinking.

What does this mean for businesses and those who work in them? That authenticity, reliability, openness and willingness to admit mistakes and rectify them are no longer just nice things to have—they’re critical to companies’ survival.

Without trust—from our leaders, our employees, our vendors, our friends—we don’t have a foundation for ongoing relationships. Businesses suffering from a lack of trust are nothing more than commodities that can and will be replaced by those that earn trust. Leaders who don’t gain trust will find that they lead a disengaged group of people who are looking for other employment. Democratic governments that lose the public’s trust are replaced through the electoral process, and organizations deemed untrustworthy could and probably should fade into oblivion.

The next question: How do you gain trust?

Consistency of action and thought.

“Do what you say and say what you do” is the perfect mantra. Don’t act one way and speak another. Don’t say that “customer service is our No. 1 priority” and not have a phone number easily accessible on your website, leave people on hold for 30 minutes or ignore their emails.

Don’t promise to do something by a certain time or date and then make excuses.

Don’t sign a contract and then try to weasel out of it based on the broadly interpreted language of a footnote on page 87.

Don’t tell people to trust you and then be untrustworthy.

We need to get back to a place where people talk to people and choose not to deal with every problem through legal channels. We need to get back to a place where if someone tells you they will do something, they do it. When they look you in the eye and shake your hand (or give an elbow or ankle bump in our new world of physical distancing), it should mean something, too.

Only by going back to being human with each other, at all levels, can we rebuild a world where people, companies and governments can be trusted, and litigation isn’t the only solution to a dispute.

Ben Baker wants to help you engage, retain, and grow your most valuable asset…your employees. He provides workshops and consulting to enable staff to understand, codify and communicate their value effectively internally and externally and Retain Employees Through Leadership. The author of Powerful Personal Brands: A Hands-On Guide to Understanding Yours and the host of the iHeart Radio syndicated YourLIVINGBrand.live show, he writes extensively on brand and communication strategy. 

Ben’s complimentary online course, Know – Like – Trust: How to Develop Your Personal Brand, is now available. Click here to access the course.