The way we communicate with others is a primary way we build trust. Along with specific behaviors and actions, communication serves as the vehicle for building trust in relationships. What we say, how we say it, and how we respond to what others communicate can make or break trust. That’s why it’s important to develop your interpersonal communication skills. There are some basic communication do’s and don’ts…the 10 commandments if you will…that everyone should know to facilitate the growth of trust.
Check yourself against this list to see how many of the 10 Commandments of Communication you adhere to:
1. Thou shalt demonstrate genuine care for the other person – People can see right through a phony. If you don’t genuinely care for the other person in the relationship it will show in your words and actions. If it’s important for you to build trust with someone, then you should find ways to genuinely care about them. Examine the relationship to see what it is about the person, or the role they play in your organization, that you appreciate and value. Focus on those aspects of the relationship in an authentic and genuine way.
2. Thou shalt listen to understand, not to respond – Most of us have poor listening skills. Instead of listening to someone to understand their point of view, we spend our mental energy formulating a response. Practice active listening techniques such as asking open-ended questions/statements like “Tell me more” or “How did that make you feel?” Paraphrase key points and check for understanding throughout the conversation and listen with the intent to be influenced by the person speaking, not with the intent to argue or debate. Listening can be one of the easiest and quickest ways to establish trust with someone.
3. Thou shalt use open body language – Studies have shown that 70% or more of communication is nonverbal. Our body language often conveys much more meaning than our words so it’s important than your body language is in alignment with the intent of your words. If at all possible, eliminate physical barriers, like a desk, between you and the person you’re speaking with. Sit side by side or in front of each other, don’t cross your arms, roll your eyes, or grimace. Be sure to smile, nod in understanding, and verbally respond with phrases like “I hear you” or “I understand” to show the other person you’re tracking with the conversation.
4. Thou shalt look for commonalities with the other person – People intuitively trust people who are similar to themselves. When first establishing the relationship, emphasize things you have in common such as where you grew up, went to school, common hobbies/interests you have, or the activities/sports of your children.
5. Thou shalt express empathy/mirror emotions – You’ve probably heard the old saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Expressing empathy toward another person is an excellent way to show you care, particularly if you mirror their emotions. Neurological studies have shown our brains contain “mirror neurons” that have the capacity to help us feel the emotions being expressed by another individual. I’m not suggesting you mimic the emotions of others in an attempt to manipulate them into trusting you, but rather taking genuine interest in their plight and letting your natural empathetic instincts express themselves.
6. Thou shalt be transparent and show vulnerability – Establishing trust in a relationship requires one person to make the first move in extending trust. Someone has to make him/herself vulnerable to another and one way to do that is to be transparent (appropriate for the context of the situation) in sharing information. A lack of transparency or vulnerability breeds suspicion in the relationship and is usually the result of one party wanting to minimize risk and maximize control.
7. Thou shalt be positive and respectful – Right or wrong, people will judge the quality of your character by how you speak about and treat others. If you are positive and respectful in your words and actions, people will trust that you will treat them the same way. The opposite is also true. If you speak disparagingly about others or treat others as “less than” yourself, people will not trust you will act with fairness and integrity in your dealings with them.
8. Choose the right time, place, and method to communicate – Just as the secret in real estate is “location, location, location,” the secret to trust-building communication is “timing, timing, timing.” In addition to finding the right time to communicate, it’s important to choose the proper place and method. If your communication involves sensitive personal information, have a face-to-face conversation in a private location. Use email, phone, and other methods of communication that are appropriate to the specific situation.
9. Thou shalt look for opportunities to build up the other person – Your words can be used to build other people up or tear them down. Which do you think will build trust? Building them up, of course. Look for every opportunity to use your communication to help others learn, grow, and become the best version of themselves possible. Doing so will cause people to see that you have their best interests in mind, a key driver of deciding to place their trust in you.
10. Thou shalt own your words – Say what you mean, mean what you say, be forthright, honest, compassionate, caring, and responsible with your communication. If you say something that harms another, apologize sincerely and make amends. It’s really that simple.
Randy Conley is the V.P. of Client Services and Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies and his LeaderChat posts normally appear the fourth or last Thursday of every month. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit Randy at his Leading with Trust blog or follow him on Twitter @RandyConley.