We live in a world where trust is a huge factor in many of the things we do.
But we don’t often talk about it.
When we read online reviews for people we need to hire for something, there are lots of words to describe the provider and the service provided. But one sentence you hardly ever see is, “I trust this person.”
That’s because it’s really hard to generate complete trust using only written words.
Trust is a feeling. It’s something we build with others and others build with us.
This post is about three trust experiences I had within a relatively short period of time: one where my trust was broken; one where gaining my trust was not a concern; and one where my trust was sincerely earned.
It’s easy to forget about trust.
Before I get into my tale I want you to consider this:
That on average, most people we deal with are capable of being polite and civilized. We carry on discussions and business interactions with people all day long and never have to show our trust meter.
You know: the meter we all have inside of us that is constantly measuring the information coming at us; the meter that measures how much we should trust the things people say, and whether or not they will follow through.
For many things, it doesn’t really matter if we trust 100%. Those things just aren’t that risky. And that’s a good thing.
But there are many things and situations where we want that trust meter to be near the top.
Those usually involve our health and our money.
For those of you who need to work well with others, the question shouldn’t be, “What can I do for you?” It should be, “How can I prove to you that you can trust me?”
The tale of three dentists.
My story begins about 6 years ago when my wife and I chose a neighbourhood dentist for our children. We were pretty confident before meeting him (but not yet trusting) as my wife had done her usual diligent research through various sources.
I’ll admit I’m more than a little skeptical of dentists, but even I began to trust this fellow as I attended most of our children’s appointments. For years, appointments were always on time and pleasant. He was kind and gentle and my children left every time with the wonderful certification of “no cavities” along with the usual accoutrements including a fresh toy from the toy drawer.
That was until a crack appeared.
It’s a long story and I cannot share all the details that I have now come to know. But the beginning of the end was when we learned that there he would not be available for our next scheduled appointment, and excuses were made. In my efforts to re-book, our dentist was still away and each telephone interaction further deepened the mystery. Eventually it became apparent that we would not see him again and we needed to find a new one. (Btw - he wasn’t murdered but he may be in fear for his life and you’re about to find out why).
After some more research, we settled on a new clinic and a new dentist.
After a few quick x-rays, I learned that both children had cavities: my daughter had as many as 8, and she would require 3 or 4 root canals; and my son only had 4 (I can’t believe I just wrote “only 4”!).
The new dentist then informed me that she didn’t do the root canal work on children herself and that my daughter needed to go to a special place to have it all done, under general anesthetic no less. My son’s 4 run-of-the-mill cavities were totally in her wheelhouse however. We were all in shock. My daughter cried after hearing too much new information, and began asking me what a root canal was.
Along with a look that intimated “you should have come here first”, the new dentist told us that she had heard some stories about our old dentist, but ended that by saying “I can’t say anymore...”
As they prompted me to book the follow-up treatment appointments, I hesitated. I said, “I think I’d like to get a second opinion before I do anything”. She said, “You’ll hear the same thing”. I paid the bill and we left. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it wasn’t really the news that was the problem.
So we found yet another dentist, this time referred to us through a trusted family member. He squeezed us in the next day, not really knowing what to expect. We brought our stories and the x-rays, hoping for some different, perhaps even better, news.
This is when I saw how someone develops trust. This gentleman sat with my wife and I and my 10-year daughter for at least 45 minutes. He looked over the x-rays and examined her teeth. And yes, sadly, it was true, the cavities were there.
But what he did differently is that he took the time to explain how we could move forward, what options we had, and what we needed to look out for.
He explained how he would treat her and what fixing the cavities would entail; he said that maybe she didn’t need the root canals. He showed her the tools and told her about them. He mentioned the little boy we had just seen in the waiting room who had just had 3 cavities filled and was smiling and joking with his Dad. He took away our worst fears and whittled them down into little bits that put us all at ease.
He said we could think about it, but we already knew. We knew we had found the right person to solve our problem.
And then, as if he hadn’t already done enough to win our trust, he said there would be no charge for this consult when we asked what we needed to pay.
Trust is worth the time.
When I reflected on these experiences, what struck me is that all dentists have the unenviable task of delivering some bad news from time to time; but they also have incredible opportunities to build trust.
Our first dentist gained trust by never doing any of the dirty work that perhaps needed to be done. That turned out to be detrimental to everyone involved, including himself. I have no idea why he did what he did. His actions did a disservice to all dentists in an industry where trust is so important.
Our second dentist, for whatever reason -- maybe because she was not able to treat my daughter’s issues -- took no time to develop our trust. It was very matter-of-fact: here are my findings, and here is how you need to solve them. Yes, she was technically correct (there were cavities) but she did not do anything to help with our shock and or help us come to terms with our new situation. Not her problem? I think it was a lost opportunity on her part.
The third dentist in my story took the time to empathize with us, to understand the situation we were in, and talked face to face with a scared 10-year-old girl. And there’s the lesson.
Yes, it cost him some time, but I think you know that he has gained a few new patients for years to come in the process. I’d say that was time well spent for him.
How can you build trust with what you do?
I’d like to offer you three things from all of this to keep in mind when you need to work with or for others.
1) You have to want to earn the trust.
This means you have to realize that trust is the most important thing. When you earn a person’s trust, it gives them peace of mind and it takes a problem off their plate. They don’t worry about who can solve their issues. They know they can trust you to do it.
2) Remember - trust is easily broken
Even though someone may trust you the potential for that to disappear is always close at hand especially in business relationships. Despite being a client for years, it didn’t take long for the situation with our first dentist to deteriorate. While this case is more severe than most it’s good to remember that people have certain expectations of you when they trust you and you’d better honour those.