Building Relationships of Trust in a Networking Environment
What comes to mind when you hear someone say those two words? For me, it is right up there with “To tell you the truth…”, as opposed to the times that the person is, apparently, lying to me!
If we have to ask someone to trust us, they probably shouldn’t. Trust is not an event, it is a process. It is not simply given, but earned.
That being said, how do we develop trust, and how do we decide whom to trust? What qualities do you look for in people that make it so that you trust them? How do you measure up when it comes to being trustworthy, based on the criteria that you set for trusting others?
These are all questions to ponder as we strive to build relationships of trust, whether it is with a significant other, a co-worker, a boss, a friend, or even at a networking mixer.
If the criteria you have set for trusting someone is that they are honest, they do what they say they are going to do, they are loyal, etc., then how honest, loyal, and full of integrity are you? Do you hold others to standards that you are not living?
I believe that there are three key elements to building trust in a new relationship. Certainly there is more to it as you get deeper into a relationship, but if you only have a few minutes at a mixer, an event, or another setting, then the three key factors are: your friendliness, your ability to engage, and your willingness to give value first.
You don’t have to be the most outgoing person in the room, or be one who makes friends easily, but you certainly need to be approachable, easy to talk to, and receptive to other people.
Your ability to engage, or converse, with people, is critical to developing new relationships, and to meeting people. “He is so engaging”, is a compliment you might hear. To me, that simply means, it is easy to talk to the person, and he captures your attention easily.
The third element is, to me, the most important, and one that most people do not grasp. If we are willing to give value first, before ever seeking anything in return, we instantly become a resource, an expert, or someone who can be trusted. Usually we do not trust someone who is always “looking out for number 1 (herself)”, or who is only talking with us because they obviously want something in return. The second habit in the classic leadership book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey is “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.” This is a great philosophy in everything we do. The better we understand a situation, the better we get to know someone, or the more we focus on giving first, the more we eventually will receive in return.
If you don’t believe me on this concept, try it with your spouse, best friend, or even a child. Focus on understanding them, or offering something without expecting anything in return, and notice the trust that you feel from them towards you.
Former US President Ronald Reagan, among others, is credited with the saying, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” People will trust you if they feel trusted by you. Trust is a powerful tool. It is something that most of us need to give before we receive it. If we expect to receive trust simply because of our title, our experience, our role in the organization, or our social status, we will usually be disappointed. However, if we focus on showing our trust first, then we will see trust coming back to us.
When you met the person you now consider your best friend, when did you make the decision that you wanted to become friends with him or her? When did you begin trusting, or feeling trusted by, this person? What efforts do you both put into maintaining your relationship? Do you have lunch on a regular basis, have each other over for dinner, talk on the phone, lean on one another for advice? Chances are you each invest in the relationship, otherwise this person is most likely not your best friend.
It took over 13 years to build the Brooklyn Bridge, 9 years to build the Harbor Bridge in Sydney, Australia, and over 4 years to build the Golden Gate Bridge. According to the website, goldengatebridge.org, painting the Golden Gate Bridge is an ongoing task, and it is the primary maintenance job performed on the bridge. Once the workers finish painting the bridge, they start over again. It is a constant, ongoing project, designed to protect the bridge from the harmful salt air and inclement weather.
To destroy a bridge, it takes literally a matter of seconds. One stick of dynamite and the bridge that took years to build can be gone in an instant.
Our relationships require that kind of maintenance and care. If we are to have a relationship of trust with anyone, it requires that we are constantly investing time and energy into the relationship.
Building relationships of trust when we might only have a few minutes to do so is very tough, so let me offer a few proven strategies and guidelines that we should always keep in mind.
As stated earlier, always be friendly, engaging, and seek to add value in every relationship. As we learn more about the people with whom we are meeting, or networking, we can find out what is important to them, what people they want to meet, or what their hot buttons are. Do your homework in advance so that you can become a resource to others.
Have a positive attitude, and look people in the eye. Part of engaging others is being the type of person that others want to be around, and one whom people know believes in his or her own talents and strengths. If you project a negative attitude, or cannot look people in the eye, no one will see you as anything but a drain on their energy and you will certainly not foster trust.
Always do your best to find common interests with the people you are trying to meet. When I walk into the office of someone I am meeting for the first time, I will always scan their office to see if I see anything that shows their passions or interests. If we have something in common, I will usually find a way to work it into the conversation. However, one caution here – don’t fake it. Be real, be sincere, and be honest.
The absolute key to developing a relationship with someone once you meet them for the first time is to keep in touch with them. A hand-written thank you note, expressing gratitude for what you learned from, or about, them, and a simple offer of something you can do for them, will go a long way in developing a relationship with that person. It also shows that you were listening to them, and were interested in what they had to say. If you go into a relationship asking for something, you probably don’t really have a relationship, but rather a brief acquaintance.
I like to refer to the “B”’s of building relationships.
First, be yourself. The job of being someone else is already taken, and the only job you are qualified for is that of being yourself.
Be honest and sincere. People can see through dishonesty very easily, and no one wants to be in a relationship with someone who they can’t trust.
Be humble. If we brag about our successes, our relationships, or accomplishments, we are putting ourselves above the other person, and we are inward focused, rather than outward. We are not adding any value to the new relationship.
Be a resource. As we have discussed, if you are seen as an expert, a resource, or as someone with some experience in a certain area, it is much more likely that others will want to be around you, and will reach out to you. If you have nothing to add to others, that is exactly what you will add to others – nothing.
Relationships are not formed overnight, but over time. The relationship begins when the follow-up starts. You will meet dozens of people at your next networking event, but you won’t be in relationship with any of them until take the step to follow up and offer to assist them with something.
If we look at all of our relationships though the paradigm of “What’s in it for them” as opposed to the more common “What’s in it for me”, we will find that people trust us more, want to be around us more often, and that we will, ultimately receive more of what we want…true relationships.