Archive for November, 2015

Which Side of Trust are You On?

November 21, 2015

As a search professional, I am surrounded by trust issues. Hiring executives find many recruiters’ modus operandi, let alone competence, to be suspect. Wary candidates, who have been steered in the wrong career direction by recruiters in the past and continue to be bombarded with inappropriate opportunities, are justified in thinking twice before engaging with a recruiter. On the flip side, I have to trust that hiring executives are presenting the company and position with full transparency. Similarly, I must ensure that candidates’ credentials and abilities are what they are purported to be.

In most all human interactions, trust is the cornerstone by which all relations are valued and business is decided on. As part of the human condition, it appears that depending on the circumstances, when people engage with someone new – whether it be a potential new client, service provider, or personal acquaintance, they enter the relationship on one of two sides of the trust issue.

One approach to trust starts people with a full bag of marbles. In other words, trust is assumed at the onset and can be either sustained or taken away, one marble at a time. The other side of trust starts people with no marbles in the bag. In this dynamic, people must earn trust, marble by marble. In conducting business, it’s of great help to understand which side of the trust equation both you and the people you engage with fall on.

As a search professional and former hiring executive, I’ve found myself trending towards the full bag of marbles mentality. As I scrutinize candidates, I take them and their collateral (i.e., LinkedIn profiles, resumes, and other supporting documents) at face value. I start with a clean trust slate and go into my interactions with a “trust but verify” mindset. It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is for candidates to lose my trust and ultimately, empty their bag of marbles.

Let’s look at some of the criteria that can make or break trust between people:

* Consistency – Assessing how unwavering people are in their messaging, explanations, skill set, behavior, and actions. Here, I look closely for any conflicting data points that may threaten credibility. There are many examples around this point. It could be as simple as inconsistencies between their verbal description of their career path and their resume. Or, when interviewing senior sales executives who profess to be the walking embodiment of sales savvy and business acumen, I may ask them to walk me through a complex enterprise deal they managed. If they struggle to convey the client’s business objectives that they’re trying to address, the challenges of the situation, and their sales strategy and supporting tactics implemented, then clearly something is amiss.

* Clarity – Measuring how clear, detailed, and on point the messaging and explanations are. Any vagueness, omission of details, or dancing around the issue will surely challenge trust.

* Honesty and Humbleness – As a past mentor said many times, “The truth will set you free.” Providing honest glimpses into one’s intent and motivations can go a long way towards gaining trust. In a similar vein, any inkling of ulterior motives or hidden agendas suck marbles out of the bag faster than you can count.

In addition, as humans, we are imperfect, flawed beings. When people reveal their warts and pimples to me, whether it be an unfavorable situation, poor decision, or less than ideal character trait, I’m more apt to believe the other points they make. This doesn’t mean that as a candidate, you must summarily throw yourself under the bus during interviews. This has more to do with believability. The corollary to this is the higher and more polished the pedestal you put yourself on, the more suspect it becomes.

* Listening – The more attentive the listener, the greater the likelihood of engendering trust.

* Inquisitiveness – Asking thoughtful questions denotes forethought, interest and care – three intangible qualities that can bolster trust.

* Time – The willingness to invest the time needed to advance relations. This comes in the form of doing homework ahead of time (e.g., research, preparing discussion points and questions) as well as committing enough time to enable discussions to run their course.

Trust is not only a two-way street, but a dynamic, delicate, living organism that must be fed, cared for, and regularly assessed. Trust can disappear as fast as it emerged. We’ve all had experiences when we established trust with someone, only to have it vaporize with one unforeseen misstep. Trust is an imperfect science at best.

With this in mind, it’s easy to suggest that the best approach to trust is to start with an empty bag of marbles. Yet, the mere act of forcing someone to earn your trust over and over can in and of itself jeopardize trust. And sadly, starting with a full bag of marbles can expose vulnerabilities, such as letting your guard down when it comes to spotting deception.

This brings us back to “trust but verify,” an age-old axiom that has been used in many arenas, most notably foreign policy. Ultimately, trust must exist between both parties in order for it to do what it’s intended to do: further relations.


Action items:

  1. When interfacing with people, especially for the first time, get a sense of their approach to trust. Are they a full bag of marbles person or do they have an empty bag approach?
  2. Find out what’s most important to the people you’re trying to interact with. They may give you clues to the criteria they use to assess trust.
  3. Ask people how they’ve experienced broken trust in the past. This is especially helpful in identifying trust-related hot buttons that deserve extra attention.