Trust is an essential element for building and maintaining relationships. Collaboration will be hard, if not impossible, without trust.

Last week I wrote about soft skills for strategic alliances and about tools that can help structure the soft skills we need for alliance relationships.

Trust is a soft skill, but it can be brutally hard when it is not there. Trust is agile in the sense that we can not demand someone to trust us. We can work on our trustworthiness, but trust will take a long time to build and can be destroyed in a minute. Like Johan Thorbecke once said: “Trust comes on foot, but leaves on horseback”.

Trust will have an impact on speed and cost as well. In “The speed of Trust” Stephen Covey describes that when trust is high, speed goes up, and cost will go down. When trust is low, speed will go down, and costs will go up.

Can we build relationships without trust? I doubt it! Relationships without trust will put a high emphasis on control and too much control will slow down things even more.

Can we systematize trust? As agile as trust is, there is no system that will tell us what the right steps are for the other person to trust us. We can not demand trust. Our behavior will determine our trustworthiness and that will hopefully lead to the other person trusting us.

Can trust be conditional? It will not work that way. In trustful relationships, you can not put conditions on you only showing up when the other person does something first. Conditions are related to control and not to trust. Conditional trust will diminish trust; speed will go down and cost will go up.

So, what can we do?

Our behavior will define our trustworthiness. Covey describes 13 key behaviors that high trust leaders have in common. Click this link to read a summary on his website. Some of these behaviors are so obvious that I won’t dive into all 13 of them. These are the ones that jumped out at me as I see them often in failing collaborative relationships:

  • Behavior #3: Create Transparency.
    A familiar behavior that I have unfortunately seen missing in a couple of alliance endeavors. In one of them, this missing behavior and the suspected hidden agendas caused the longest alliance formation I have ever witnessed.
  • Behavior #4: Right Wrongs
    Again speed comes back, be swift when you realize that you are wrong. Don’t delay but act, even when you feel you are wrong and the other might not have experienced it that way.
  • Behavior #9: Clarify Expectations
    Unfortunately, we make too many assumptions in alliances and other relationships. Assumptions cause relationships to slow down and partnerships to fail, because we did not clarify our expectations and we lost each other along the way.
  • Behavior #11: Listen first
    Too often we see that people are not listening to understand, but thinking about their next reply. Without listening and understanding, we can not add value and will fail to build trustworthiness.

Collaborative relationships where these behaviors are lacking often fail, or take a very long time to get started. These four jumped out for me, but in fact, all 13 are equally important for any trust.

Now, over to you, to ponder on and take action: What behaviors would you add to this list to enhance your trustworthiness and to build healthy relationships?

Have a great week!