Trust is the foundation of strong business relationships, both personal and professional. And healthy relationships are the key factor to happiness.
Besides being happier, entrepreneurs with high levels of trust are more successful at retaining their employees. They may even earn more money.
So, how do you build trust? The answer is that you make it a priority. Here are steps entrepreneurs can take to do just that.
1. Show competence.
The first step in becoming a trustworthy entrepreneur is to master a skill. Before associates will do business with you, you have to prove to them that you know what you’re doing.
Once you're competent, you’ll produce results and demonstrate your knowledge to others.
Tip: Before you sign up for a coding bootcamp, take a few moments to reflect on what you’re already good at, then double down on those skills. These could be anything from cold calling to accounting.
2. Keep your promises.
When building trust, reliability is ground zero. Even if you lack the skills, knowledge or connections to fall back on, you can always do what you say.
Being reliable simply means doing what you said you would. So, build trust with small gestures, such as launching a product on time and following up with customers.
Tip: Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Keeping five small promises is far better than keeping four and breaking one.
3. Speak confidently.
Want to build trust? Speak confidently. In today’s economy, there’s little room for shyness. This holds true whether you’re blogging or speaking in public.
Admittedly, when I started my first business, I felt pretty timid. But I slowly learned to speak with confidence in a boardroom, on a stage and on my blog.
Speaking confidently and being extroverted are not the same, though. Many great leaders are introverts, embracing the power of quiet and using it to command attention.
Tip: Understand that speaking or writing confidently is a skillset. Like any other skill, it can be broken down and learned. Dissect it piece by piece and work on improving one part of your speech at a time.
Related: 5 Ways to Create a Culture of Trust
4. Actually listen.
Being a confident speaker and a good listener are two completely different things. From childhood, we learn to communicate our thoughts and needs. Rarely are we taught how to listen.
Our first instinct is to be understood by others, and in doing so we communicate our point but ignore theirs. When you’re doing all the talking, you may miss the entire meaning of the conversation.
Author Steven Covey explained why this happens, saying that "Most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand... [thus, filtering everything your hear through your own frame of reference]."
Tip: Covey offers a simple solution: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. By seeking to understand first, we drop our filter and instead look for the meaning and emotion behind the words.
5. Show empathy.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley. There’s something I learned about the place: Silicon Valley has an empathy problem.
Young tech entrepreneurs are making crazy sums of money without having gone through real hardship. The result: They totally lack in empathy.
To build trust, you need to understand people, whether they be customers, investors or employees. You won’t get far without empathy, and neither will your business. In fact, recent research from Google shows that empathy, not technology, drives innovation.
Tip: Developing empathy is a lifelong practice, not something that happens overnight. But you can get started today. To build trust through empathy, use statements of empathy, such as:
- "What this means to you is . . ."
- "You and I share a common goal."
- "Like you, I care about this topic because . . . "
Even if you don’t feel empathy inside, these phrases give other people a sense that you understand them.
6. Be vulnerable.
When some entrepreneurs hear “vulnerability,” they pawn it off as emotional nonsense.
But vulnerability is not a character weakness or a security flaw. To the contrary, vulnerability in this context means having the courage to be yourself. It means expressing your true thoughts and desires openly, thus exposing yourself to risk.
Being vulnerable at work yields huge rewards, and rewards other than just feeling better about yourself. When we’re vulnerable and authentic, our employees trust us more. And, trust in a leader improves employee happiness and productivity.
Tip: Open up to your employees, colleagues and audience, and they will reciprocate, sharing problems and advice. Instead of feeling like cogs in a machine, your employees will share a mutual respect for you and the company. To be more vulnerable, you might:
- Call someone up who’s suffered a loss, express your grief and ask how he or she is doing.
- Ask someone for help.
- Admit when you were wrong. (See how Ray Dalio handles criticism.)
7. Be truthful.
Telling the truth isn’t always easy, nor is hearing it. It’s uncomfortable and can hurt feelings. As entrepreneurs, however, we have a responsibility to do what’s right, even when it’s uncomfortable. This means telling the truth about how we see things even when someone disagrees.
In an interview, startup founder Rebekah Campbell warned against the dangers of small lies: "[T]elling lies is the No. 1 reason entrepreneurs fail," she said. "Not because telling lies makes you a bad person, but because the act of lying plucks you from the present, preventing you from facing what is really going on in your world."
Tip: If an employee or partner does something you disagree with, voice that disagreement. When you do, things may get heated, but your listeners will trust you more in the long run knowing that you’re honest.
The most trustworthy people I know commit to building trust in their relationships. They use different ways to prove their trustworthiness to others.
The strategies on this list work. Trust me.