Posted by: johnocunningham | August 24, 2016

The Role of Trust and Competence in Forming Relationships

In her most recent book, “Presence,” Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy says that people quickly surmise two things about a new acquaintance:

  • Can I trust this person?
  • Can I respect this person?

Cuddy explains that the latter question translates to, essentially, “Do I believe this person is competent at what they do?”

Her findings, based on 15 years of studying common interactions with the help of other highly-qualified psychologists,  suggest that the primal question in our brains is the first one: “Can I trust this person?” She also concludes that professionals often focus too much on displaying competence and strength before trustworthiness, which can actually hinder the development of trust.

For those who are selling professional services, there is a lesson in this study. Try to connect with another person on a human level when you try to make a business connection. There are lots of competent professionals, but among them, there are fewer who can establish a link of trust with a prospective client based on shared values, experiences, or other subjective criteria.

In my own study of corporate clients, I have found that trustworthiness is almost always consciously articulated as a threshold concern, and there is a fear of those who open a first acquaintance talking all about their professional accolades. Displaying competence is critical to the formation of a new relationship, but it is secondary to proving you can be trusted.

Sales professionals have long known this, and indeed that is the reason for their maxim: “No trust means no sale.”



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