Building Trust: Get Personal, Let Go of Assumptions, Be Curious, Listen, Follow-Through

September 25th, 2015 by Marcy Schwab

Building Trust:   Get Personal, Let Go of Assumptions, Be Curious, Listen, Follow-Through

How often have you walked a meeting with a set of planned outcomes, got into the meat of the discussion and received negativity and defensiveness in return? What’s going on?

Chances are, you walked into that meeting with an agenda and moved full steam ahead into what you were trying to accomplish. Chances are, too, that you held some beliefs about what is true and worked from those in approaching your desired outcomes. In return, your colleagues, clients or team were forced to react to that approach and your assumptions. What happened to your leadership presence? First, you react to the negativity. Second, you go down a road that wasn’t what you intended and does nothing for your clients, colleagues or team and thus, you do not reach your objective. Nothing gained, except frustration and roadblock. So, what do you do instead?

You build trust.

  1. Get Personal
  2. Let Go of Assumptions
  3. Be Curious
  4. Listen Carefully
  5. Follow Through

Doing these 5 things builds trust, and thus, greatly enhances your leadership presence.

Know Your Audience

Think of someone you trust. You probably know a good deal about them and they know quite a lot about you. You can probably tell if they are in a good mood or a bad mood, and you have some idea of how to interpret their body language and their tone. You also likely know how they might react in a certain situation. Trust takes time.

So, when you first approach someone, either for the first time or even if you know them extremely well, take a few moments to get to know more about them. Figure out what kind of mood he is in, what’s going on with him, or what’s important to him right now. Ask him the basic question, “How are you?” Simply the selection of topic will give you some good insight into what matters to him. You might learn what he enjoys, who is part of his life, and what activities in which he participates. Read his body language to help you gauge the type of mood they are in and how open they are likely to be today. Remember facts (or jot them down!) about the person, so you can ask relevant questions the next time you see him. Getting to know someone is one of the most important steps to building trust.

Assumptions Are Dangerous

When you walk into a situation with a preconceived notion of anything, really, you’re going to approach the person and/or situation in a particular way rather than the way that will be most effective.

Think of your last meeting with someone new where you needed to accomplish a certain task or reach a desired outcome. How did it start? Did you introduce yourself and then dive into the purpose of the meeting? What happened? Quite possibly, you and the other person were already “on the same page” and it went well. But what happened if you did not happen to be moving in the same direction as your colleague or client? Reactions you received may have gone in one of many directions, and many of those might not be where you wanted to go. It’s because you didn’t assess the situation, and you have no idea what’s going on in this person’s head. You took your own perspective as the common view and moved based on that.

Curiosity Wins the Day

Instead, what if you explained to your colleague what your objectives are and then discovered more about this person’s perspective on this matter and the bigger picture task? Questions such as:

“What role do you play in this endeavor?”
“How do you feel it’s going so far?”
“What can make us successful together?”
“What are your concerns?”
“What would you like to know about me?”
“What should I know about you?”
“I would like to deliver X, do you have some thoughts already on how to do that or should I provide some thoughts first?”

Even when your meeting is with someone you already know, isn’t it refreshing to find out more about where his/her head is regarding the task at hand? Maybe there’s a better idea entirely! Or maybe priorities have changed. Even when trust is already established, it’s important to continue building on it to ensure the relationship is preserved, maintained, and flourishes.

Listen to What’s Said and Not Said

Curiosity is valuable but only when you really listen and care about what you’re hearing. Try to shut down the running commentary in your head, and truly listen to what the person is saying without assumption and without judgment. Ask follow up questions and recap in your own words to be sure you are truly understanding the other person’s point-of-view.

What does the other person care about? What are his or her concerns? What is being said, and sometimes more importantly, what is not being said? What is the person’s body language saying? What paths are they not taking and why?

Use this new information to proceed down a path that feels right for everyone involved. even and especially if it differs from where you originally thought you would be headed.

Follow Up

Again, think about someone you trust. What do they do after an interaction with you? They often follow up in some important way that helps you get where you need to go. They may simply hold your conversation in confidence or they may follow up with you to see how things are going. They may even make an offer to advance your cause. Whatever follow-up makes sense, keep in mind that little things make a big difference.


What are your results?

Your colleague or client has now been heard. What a wonderful display of respect. You will address the opportunity or steps forward in a way that considers the other person’s opinions and takes into account what he or she cares about. Even if you disagree with your colleague or client’s opinion, you can now move from a place of understanding and take it into account when you respond or follow up. Your intentions will be considered honorable, and your ability to work closely with this person again will be enhanced greatly.

Walk into each situation with few assumptions. Learn to quiet the on-going commentary in your head and really listen through caring and compassion. Then, you can move forward with the trust of your team, clients, and colleagues.

Final Thought

Trust takes time to build and only moments to destroy.

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