Trust is in the air (or not, as the case may be)

‘According to our modelling, the single greatest predictor of whether an American has been vaccinated is whether they voted for Joe Biden or Donald Trump last November.’ (Economist, July 31st 2021 Edition)


‘More than half of French 25‑ to 34‑year‑olds, and one‑third of Dutch 25‑ to 34‑year‑olds, said they would probably or definitely not get vaccinated.’ (Kantar, 2021[5])


The OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19) report ‘Enhancing public trust in COVID-19 vaccination: The role of governments’ looks into the key role of trust. Trust in the vaccines as well as trust in the governments who are requiring their populations to take part.


The OECD Trust Framework identifies five main policy dimensions that drive people’s trust in government institutions: responsiveness, reliability, integrity, openness and fairness. The empirical relevance of this framework has been tested in eight OECD countries and evidence shows that both government competence and values are strong predictors of public trust (Murtin et al., 2018[9]; OECD/KDI, 2018[10]; OECD, forthcoming[2]).


Which brings me to how these facts (checked!) are related to my professional business interests.


To trust or not to trust, that is the question!


The primitive part of our brain (the amygdala) is what lights up when we don’t trust. The result is the production of cortisol and testosterone when we observe any reason to distrust somebody or something. This compromises our judgement and we look to flee or fight to protect our territory.


Conversely, the pre-frontal cortex activates when we trust someone. We then enjoy the effects of happy and bonding hormones like dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin.


The not-so-great news is the amygdala fires up in seconds when we see reasons not to trust. We are wired that way – and have been for thousands of years.


With vaccines being a topic du jour, what that means for our countries’ leaders and public health officials is tricky. Take the now omnipresent TV advertisements encouraging us to have a vaccine. That will land well with those who trust the government but will struggle to counter the neurochemistry of those who do not (the intended audience!). Playing the same advert again and again and re-explaining the science is fighting against thousands of years of our brains’ hard-wiring. Hence the stats from the USA and Europe cited above.


By saying I won’t have the vaccine, what young French and Dutch people are really saying is “I don’t trust the government and/or I don’t trust the pharma companies”.


By the way, trust is the key theme of this article; not whether or not governments are doing a good job or not. There is enough on LinkedIn and Twitter about the latter. And in any event, I’m not qualified to comment on that!


Trust and our daily professional lives


Whether we are a government, a pharma company or an individual managing a professional relationship, we can adopt one of two mindsets when communicating with others.

  1. "You can trust me to have your best interests at heart” or

  2. “I want to persuade you to see things my way”.


Judith E Glaser in her fascinating book “Conversational Intelligence – How Great Leaders Build Trust” contends that we need to approach all interactions (person-to-person or institution-to-public) with the mindset of the former, not the latter. David Maister et al’s Trust Equation invites us to consider the same thing.


If we adopt the latter mindset, then we will erode trust. Influencing someone to do (or buy) something with low trust between the parties is very difficult.


We have all been on the receiving end of this. Think of the well-trained salesperson in the electronics store or car show room where you couldn’t get out fast enough as they tell you what you need. That’s your amygdala at work protecting you as you scramble for the exit door!


As well as neuroscience, the data tells us the same story. Year after year the beatonbenchmarks data consistently tells us that clients of professional services firms are driven to choose firms and practitioners who ‘understand my business, have expertise in my areas of need, provide advice that is practical and relevant, and behave in a responsive and reliable way.Similarities with the OECD framework for sure.


What is your mindset?


As a professional and a human being, how we approach building and maintaining relationships becomes relevant at this point. It’s about our mindset first and foremost. Skills, processes and tools, although important, come second.


Do you look at every client interaction as an opportunity to build trust?


Or do you see ‘What work we can win?’. Consequently, could clients feel steamrolled by your efforts to win work from them, or do they willingly meet with you because it could be a valuable experience for them?

Consider a recent client interaction. What mindset did you adopt? Ask yourself:

  1. If I was the client having a meeting with me, was that a successful and rewarding use of time?

  2. What prep/research did I do into my client and their world so that I could show empathy, insight and relevance?

  3. What questions did I prepare that show curiosity and relevant insight whilst looking to build engagement?

  4. How did I build better rapport by adapting my behaviour and communication style to mirror theirs more closely?

  5. What, if any, information did my client value at this meeting? And if I went with pre-prepared material, was it of value to them and did I make an effort to tailor it their needs and issues?

  6. During and after the meeting how do I always show responsiveness, reliability and be easy to work with?

  7. How did I use this meeting and every future meeting/interaction to build trust so the client wants to stay in touch, meet again and ultimately work with me?

  8. Or was my plan for the meeting “How can I use this meeting to see what work I can win?”


Winning work from clients without a solid foundation of trust is like driving with the hand brake on or akin to handing out flyers on Queen Street.


Winning work is underpinned by the right mindset of ‘I have your (the client’s) best interests at heart’. This takes time, planning and effort.


Whether a professional or a government or a pharma company, thinking of it in any other way is fighting against thousands of years of brain evolution.