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Risky Business: How to Make Counting on Others Less Scary


Wed Feb 25 2015

Risky Business: How to Make Counting on Others Less Scary

You count on Susan to get you the sales figures by the end of the quarter. You count on Don to set up the training room and supply all the materials for your group of 30. You count on Reza to get the shipment to the client on or before the due date.  Over and over, every day, workplace productivity depends on trusting people. How is that trust earned? How can you rest assured that Susan, Don, and Reza will get the job done? 

The language we use reveals just how risky it is to decide to trust someone. We say things like:

  • “I’d go out on a limb for him.” (A limb might break off!)

  • “I don’t mind sticking my neck out for her.” (You might lose your head!)

  • “I’d put my good name on the line for him.” (You might regret having signed on!)

  • “I’d go to bat for her.” (She might end up striking out!) 

So, when you trust someone, you’ve overcome all kinds of reluctance. How does that kind of trust develop? To look at that, let’s explore at how people learn to count on you. How can you teach people to believe in your character and competence? What is character and competence? 

After 25 years of listening closely to clients from a wide variety of professions and industries, we have determined that people believe in your character when you:

  • do what you say you will do

  • meet deadlines

  • go for the win/win solution

  • treat everyone you meet fairly

  • are unfailingly reliable

  • speak well of people even when they are not present

  • come from a position of abundance, not scarcity

  • move from competition to collaboration

  • compensate generously for your mistake

  • make it right when something goes wrong

  • go the extra mile

  • respect other people’s time and possessions

  • say “Thank you!” 

And people will believe in your Competence when you:  

  • earn the proper credentials

  • win praise and awards from your peers

  • take lifelong learning seriously

  • are cited as an expert in the trade press or mass media

  • teach or mentor others

  • consult with others to share your expertise

  • write for publications or speak in public

  • do the job right—the first time

  • happily discuss your procedures and processes with clients and customers

  • handle “the little stuff” with care

  • follow through to be sure that your work meets—or exceeds—expectations

Stay at the leading edge of your profession. 

Trust happens as you teach others about your character and competence, and you learn about theirs. This teaching process takes time. Contacts Count research shows that it takes six to eight conversations, in which you prove you can be trusted, and to take note of what contacts do and say to decide if they can be trusted. 

  • Six times that you come into contact—ideally face-to-face, but perhaps by phone or via the Internet.

  • Six times when they get to see your Character and Competence, and you see theirs.

  • Six times when you teach them what to come to you for, what you’re looking for, what you’re good at, what they can count on you for and learn the same about them. 

It’s a big order. Conversation by conversation and action by action, your confidence in each other grows and the work gets done. As trust develops, risk recedes. The risk you’re willing to take and the value you derive are both determined by the degree of trust you’ve earned. Pouring your energy into developing trusting relationships makes counting on each other much more comfortable.

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