I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a group discussion about trust. It was sparked by a new book, “Dare: Accepting the Challenge of Trusting Leadership,” by Scott Weiss. The author surmises that for many reasons, we have lost our trust in leadership. The lack of trust, according to Weiss, is prominent in many areas of our lives, including business. As research – and my discussion group of seasoned business professionals confirmed – trust is a growing concern particularly among millennials and anyone hiring the next generation of employees.
Much can be said of the causes for our growing lack of trust. Since everyone in business knows that you shouldn’t present a problem without a solution, let’s look at the “solution” side. The dare that Weiss calls for is to become more trustworthy by being more transparent in business communications. Having spent my career helping leaders talk about their businesses, I believe I have something to say on the subject.
Certainly, we have come a long way from the days of formal ‘business speak.’ While we have miles to go to meet Weiss’ dare for transparency, the tone is improving. Still, I have been in enough conversations with corporate lawyers to understand the hesitation. No excuses. We can no longer hide behind that. The social responsibility movement has not only initiated transparency in reporting business standards and goals related to sustainability, supply chain and more – now it seems there is recognition that transparency is desirable and more effective in executive communications as well.
We have moved on from the time when many in PR and Communications thought we could or did control the message. The proliferation of social media has kindled a spirit of community where everyone is, in fact, an editor. Or, well, at least a “writer” of sorts. That changed the game significantly.
Still, the basics of good communication have not changed. Getting everyone to listen and use that knowledge, well, that is likely the bigger issue. Trust is at the very core of this dare, so … how do we get to a more trusting state in business communications?
I am reminded of an acronym used to help leaders remember how to respond in a crisis. It is equally relevant for every day communications and just as useful whether you are in business or nonprofit. In fact, I once used this to help a nonprofit leader respond to a crisis that could have literally shut down his operations. The reporters covering the story were shocked at his transparency. He not only came out “smelling like a rose” but he planted a whole garden of good for the next interaction!
So, how do you build trust in leadership? Whenever you communicate, always remember your CAP.
Concern: Show concern for the situation at hand. Make sure the listeners know you empathize with how they are likely feeling about the situation or at the very least, acknowledge the issue/situation.
Action: Whether you know the specific details yet or not, indicate what actions you are taking to resolve or respond. Even if you can only honestly and humbly report that you are checking into the details, that means something. And by all means, you better get back to them with the results. That is a huge part of the trust equation on this one!
Positive: Find some way to end on a positive note. Whether it is reiterating that your company does not endorse whatever happened, or that you believe in the motivation of your employees to help resolve the issue … whatever it is, leave the listeners with a sense that you can and will turn a negative into a positive.
Of course, this absolutely does not work if you don’t do the work to back up everything you say. Anyone who wants to build trust must “talk the talk and walk the walk!” That is the first step! Trust me.