To Truly Impact Others, Build Trust First

At ThinqShift, our core ethos is about helping craft Adaptable Leaders who will make an extraordinary impact on the world. When I sit back and reflect on this, however, it seems like an extremely tall order.  So I ask myself: What’s the first step I need to take on this journey towards this highly aspirational purpose?  It all begins with trust.  If you don’t focus on building trust with others, your influence will be limited to only the content or positional power you may have, and you will never experience the type of impact on others that Adaptable Leaders have where people say, “I will follow you because I trust in you and I want to be part of whatever you do.”

In general, we seem to be focusing less and less on the hard work of building trust these days, and relying more heavily on our content and positional power in our pursuit of success.  Why?  For one, it is quite challenging and time-consuming to build relationships with others.  It’s much easier for me to seek respect and status based on “what I know” or the title I hold.  We also live in a digital-heavy world where we increasingly rely on means of communication that de-emphasize face-to-face human interactions because it’s much more “efficient” to communicate via email, text, or social media.  The benefits of gaining communication efficiency through digital means have conversely resulted in a declining emphasis and competency in the very habits that lead to trust-building.

Actively building deep and human relationships is the way to develop personal power and enduring trust with others, and it requires emotional intelligence mastery as well as content and positional power competence.  But how do we do it?


The Emotional Bank Account

The emotional bank account was first introduced by Stephen Covey in his highly-acclaimed book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  Think of the emotional bank account (EBA) as you would a financial bank account(s); in our financial bank accounts, we deposit and withdraw money based on our financial needs. Similarly, we all have an EBA with each person in our lives—from significant others, family members, friends, colleagues, and bosses, to neighbors and casual acquaintances. Like a financial bank account, we have some combination of emotional credits and debits that have been built up over time in our EBAs, based on our interactions with each other.  To build healthy relationships and earn the trust required to influence and impact another human being, the goal then is to always be in credit with others.  A secondary goal is to have many people that you are in credit with; this is how your influence and impact can multiply!

Every positive interaction with another person—whether it be in person, over the phone, in an email, based on work delivered, or some other channel—has the potential to be a credit in your EBA with that person.  Likewise, every negative interaction with another person has the opposite effect of potentially being a debit.  Did you know that it takes nearly 6 positive interactions with another person, to counteract the consequences of one negative interaction?  High performing teams know this; the highest performing teams studied have a nearly 6:1 ratio in positive interactions to negative interactions with one another.

I love the concept of the emotional bank account; however, here’s the most important thing to remember: Tools like the emotional bank account only work if you first make the emotional commitment to building the trust that is critical for developing the personal power necessary to become an Adaptable Leader.  Without this emotional commitment, all the tools in the world are useless.  This is precisely the mindset shift that’s required if you truly want to make trust-building and building your emotional bank account with others a sustainable habit.

Building Personal Power Credits

Building off of Covey’s emotional bank account concepts, I encourage aspiring Adaptable Leaders to think about building personal power credits.  These are the behaviors and habits that build your personal power with others.  There are many ways to build personal power credits with others, just as there are many ways to build up personal power debits too!  Here are the top personal power building behaviors that I believe all of us can put into practice today.  

  • Do what you say...always.  You develop trust by being true to your word.  Do what you say you will do and follow through on your commitments...even when it’s hard.  Practice this habit consistently enough and you will become someone that others perceive as trustworthy and a person whose actions align with their values and words; one of the non-negotiables of being an Adaptable Leader.
  • Be vulnerable first.  You can’t develop trust with others if they don't perceive you as human.  If you want people to open up and trust you, you must first share your personal story and challenges with them.  This is risky and uncomfortable for many to do because our brains are deeply wired to do things that make us feel safe.  However, if you’re unwilling to do this, this will become a personal blocker on your journey to Adaptable Leadership.  Commit to letting your guard down and make it safe for others to go there with you by going there yourself first.

  • Ask about their dreams.  We spend so much of our time thinking about the practical, day-to-day stuff that rarely do we spend time dreaming.  Yet, we all had dreams as little kids, whether that be owning a pet unicorn, sinking a 30-foot putt on the 18th green to win the Masters, becoming a concert violinist playing in the most exquisite symphony halls in the world, or raising a family with 6 kids on a 100-acre ranch in rural Montana.  Think about it; when was the last time someone asked you about your hopes and dreams?  More than likely, they asked you about what you do for a living, where you live, where you went to school, or something quite practical and factual.  Flip the script and ask someone about their hopes and dreams.  You might just ignite something inside of them that has laid dormant for years...and they will thank you for it.  At a minimum, they will see that you genuinely care about them and want to know them at more than just a surface level.

  • Ask how you can help.  This seems so simple, it’s often forgotten.  A few years ago, I started to work on the habit of wrapping up every conversation with a simple ask: “How can I help you?”  Even if they can’t think of anything off the top of their head, people always appreciate this question.  Sometimes “help” looks like a genuine listening ear for someone to share what’s deep inside their soul; other times it’s a warm connection to someone in your personal network who that person would like to meet.  Every person ascribes value to things differently, but the common thread here is that genuinely asking people how you can help is always a personal power building behavior.

Making Trust Building a Way of Life

Think about the people in your life whom you respect and trust the most.  My hunch says these are the people who have first made the emotional commitment to building personal power and trust with the people around them as a way of life, and then have mastered the tools and techniques described above.  It’s just who they are.  Anything less than a true emotional commitment to this will result in your actions coming across as disingenuous and people won’t trust you.  The impact and influence you desire to have on others simply won’t happen.  

Make the commitment to this and go forth and see what extraordinary impact you might have in the lives of the people around you as they come to trust you.