The Trust Equation

Published on 22nd August 2017 in Leadership

Increase Trust

The Trust equation is a model that breaks down Trust into 4 elements on which you can act to increase your trustworthiness with a colleague.

Trust is crucially important for leadership success specifically in building relationships – internally and externally. You will develop more effective business relationships by increasing and maintaining trust with others. Trust is the foundation for most other leadership capabilities (coaching, influencing, inspiring, delegating, stakeholder relationships).

Let’s go Deeper
It’s fundamentally important to be authentic. The key elements that make up a trust are credibility, reliability, intimacy, and low self-orientation. The Trust equation* is as follows:

  • Credibility relates to our words and is revealed in our credentials and honesty
  • Reliability relates to our actions and is revealed by keeping our promises
  • Intimacy relates to our emotions; people feel safe talking about difficult stuff
  • Self-orientation relates to our caring and is revealed in our focus (us or them?)

Self-orientation has the biggest impact on the trust equation.

C= Credibility (How to enhance Credibility)
Speak with expression, using body language, eye contact and vocal range to show that you have energy around the subject.

When you don’t know, say so directly and commit to getting back to the stakeholder if appropriate.

Research the business situation of your stakeholder and find out about more about them as a person. Reference an insight you have gained (e.g. a business challenge they may be facing) and invite them to share with you their experience. This shows you have relevant knowledge without taking over the conversation.

R= Reliability (How to enhance Reliability)
Understand the norms of your stakeholder. Where possible, deliver and behave in a way that anticipates and accommodates your stakeholder habits, expectations and routines.

Agree on meeting agendas up front by soliciting their views as to how the time will be spent. Run the meeting according to this shared agenda and manage the meeting by adapting to the stakeholder preferences.

I= Intimacy (How to improve Relationships)
Be prepared to accept responsibility and make the first move. Take a personal risk to share something about what you see, feel or think about an issue at hand. It may be met in kind resulting in increased intimacy.

Test whether you are pushing too far too fast. If you were the stakeholder, would you want to discuss this topic? Is this the right time?

Check that you have the right posing of difficult questions or messages. Test it out first. Have you given your stakeholder a reasonable way to not answer and save face?

S= Self-orientation (How to reduce self-orientation)
Ask open questions. Check your understanding of what has been said by summarising

Understand your stakeholder’s issues and hypotheses before offering your own solutions.

Listen generously. Trust your ability to add value after listening rather than relying on trying to do so during listening.

Take most of the responsibility for failed conversations

Think about your stakeholder’s success. Make their concerns your concerns.


Threats to Client Orientation

Another approach to reducing self-orientation is to be aware of behaviours that threaten a client orientation. These include:

  • Self-consciousness
  • A need to appear on top of things
  • A desire to look intelligent
  • Preoccupied with a long do-list
  • An inclination to jump to the solution
  • A need to win the argument, be right, be seen to be right
  • A desire to be seen to be adding value
  • Fears: of not knowing, not having an intelligent answer, of being rejected

Above all else, check your Intentions before engaging with a stakeholder. This is not a formula for feigning sincerity: it is a model of how our behaviour builds trust and where we may need to place more conscious attention in order to be more effective.


What next?
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