“Trust comes on foot, 
but leaves on horseback”

This quote about trust is attributed to Johan Thorbecke, the Dutch politician who was responsible for our first constitution in 1848. It is interesting to see the way this quote describes the essence of trust and its vulnerability. The quote is from a different century. After all, who comes on foot (well I did to Santiago) and leaves on horseback nowadays?

When transitioning the quote to today’s fast paced Trust comes on foot and leaves on horsebackenvironment we might even say that trust coms on foot and leaves by airplane.

To build trust takes time and it can be gone in a minute if we violate it. Trust is essential for any kind of relationship. To a lesser extend for a transactional relationship than for a more strategic relationship. Buying a bottle of water is a good example to illustrate the amount of trust you need to purchase the bottle from the seller. How much do you trust the seller? You only need to trust the seller just enough to be sure that when you hand over your money the bottle of water will be handed to you. End of transaction, end of the relationship and the trust needed for that transaction. Now for relationships from a more strategic nature, like business partnerships and strategic alliances, you will need a higher level of trust.

In these strategical relationships you need to be able to rely on your partner and your partner must be able to rely on you. Trust in a relationship is always two ways: it is impossible for you to trust your partner while your partner does not trust you. And without this mutual trust it is impossible to build a successful strategic partnership.

But how do you build trust?

3 essential elements to start building and maintaining trust

  • Pay attention and be an active listener. Leave your smart gadgets and i-devices out of the conversation and pay attention to your partner. Show that you understand him and repeat in your own words what he just said. No repetition of the partners words, but your own interpretation of what was said to make sure you understood your partner correctly.
  • Suspend judgement. Somehow we people are very easy in our judgement, we quickly tend to have an opinion about somebody else based on their looks and behavior. The moment you start to judge your partner objectivity has left the door. You can no longer be open and fully trust your partner once a judgement has been made. Suspend judgement, start with understanding and connecting.A situational judgement might be needed later, but not a personal judgement.
  • Deliver on the promise. A partner need to be able to rely on you. When you make a promise, make sure you deliver on the promise, better even: under-promise and over-deliver. People will learn that they can rely on you. Whenever something comes in between that makes you cannot deliver on the promise: communicate!

These are three essential elements to start building and maintaining a healthy reliable level of trust in strategic alliances and business partnerships. With a good level of trust in place, it may not leave on horseback but in occasional bad weather you can mend the level of trust by quickly and effectively communicating with your partner.

What would you add? How can you build and maintain trust?

7 Responses to “3 elements to build trust”

  1. Trust is an interesting area to explore. The third point, deliver on the promise can encompass a long conversation on it’s own. Many times, delivering on a promise can be graded on a multi- tiered scale. The important thing is to double check to ensure that your definition of “delivering” is in concert with that of your partner.

    • Peter Simoons

      Any specific experience on this point Jack? Is the multicultural part as Maarten mentioned above part of this experience and need for double check?

  2. I consider appliance of the ‘win-win’ principle one of the most telling expressions in building and showing. Just like in real life you should never forget why the both of you entered into a relation. Both take risks and want a reward in return. Falling back on this ‘win-win’ principle is most valuable when times are difficult. It is not always easy, but one has to take the first step. This is never the same as giving in, it just really shows you are there to stay.

    • Peter Simoons

      Thanks Wim, going back to the reason for being in the partnership (the win-win) is indeed an excellent way to reset expectations when required. It is not giving in, it is more a “remember why we are here” action resetting positions and expectations.