“Trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback” – this saying, attributed to Johan Thorbecke, the Dutch politician who played a role in establishing our country’s first constitution in 1848, encapsulates the essence and fragility of trust. Although the quote originates from a different era, where travel methods weren’t the same as those used nowadays, it remains relevant in today’s fast-paced environment. If we were to update this saying, we might say that trust arrives on foot and leaves in an electric car!
Building trust is a time-consuming process, yet it can be shattered in an instant through a breach of trust. Trust is a vital component of any relationship, although it holds greater significance in strategic alliances compared to transactional relationships. Consider the act of buying a bottle of water as an illustration of the trust required between buyer and seller. For this transaction, you only need enough trust to believe that when you exchange your money, you will receive the bottle of water. Once the transaction is complete, the relationship and the trust needed for that specific transaction come to an end.
In strategic relationships, like partnerships and alliances, a higher level of trust is necessary and both parties must be able to rely on each other. Trust in a relationship is a two-way street; it is difficult to trust your partner if they do not trust you. Without mutual trust, it is very difficult to foster a successful strategic alliance.
How Can You Build Trust?
Here are three essential elements for establishing and maintaining trust:
- Pay attention and actively listen: Dedicate your full attention to your partner. Set aside distractions such as smartphones and other devices, and demonstrate understanding by paraphrasing and rephrasing what your partner has said. This shows that you truly comprehend their perspective.
- Suspend judgement: People tend to make quick judgements based on appearances and behaviour. Once you pass judgement, objectivity diminishes, and trust becomes compromised. Instead, suspend judgement and strive to understand and connect with your partner. Situational judgement may be necessary later on, but personal judgements hinder trust.
- Follow through on commitments: A partner must be able to rely on you. When you make a promise, ensure that you deliver on it. In fact, it’s even better to under-promise and over-deliver! Consistently meeting your commitments will build a reputation for reliability. If circumstances arise that prevent you from fulfilling a promise, communicate the reasons promptly and effectively.
These three elements are crucial for establishing and maintaining a healthy and dependable level of trust in strategic alliances and business partnerships. In our Alliance Masterclass and our online course “Creating Successful Partnerships,” Anoop Nathwani and I extensively discuss trust and how to build and maintain it across different cultures. With a solid foundation of trust in place, strategic relationships are better built and more easily maintained. Trust won’t then leave on horseback, as occasional setbacks can be overcome by promptly and effectively communicating with your partner, allowing you to repair and strengthen the level of trust.