Trust: A matter of competency and character

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Trust. It can be a tricky thing. We can think we're building good trust and credibility over time with our daily work, only to have it taken away with one Facebook post, one conversation, or a mistake!

By definition trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. Stephen R. Covey, in 'The Speed of Trust," describes trust as the act of building credibility, based on two factors: character and competency. Character is built based on integrity and intention; competency is built based on capabilities and results.

Character is made up of integrity or the moral qualities and values distinctive to an individual or organization. How honest is the individual or organization; does it tell the truth? How congruent are its actions to its deepest values? Is the organization more concerned with "what is right" than on "being right?" Does the organization have the courage to act in accordance with its values and beliefs even when there is a price to be paid for doing so? Most of the major violations of trust are violations of integrity.

Character also includes intention: what are the clear and apparent motives being demonstrated? Are they focused on self-benefit or mutual benefit? Is genuine caring being demonstrated? It's important to remember that our perception of someone's intent (whether true or not) has a huge impact on trust. Covey states, "While we judge ourselves by our intent, we tend to judge others by their behavior." In other words, we give ourselves grace (my intentions were good), but seldom do that with others.

Competency, on the other hand, is the capability to do something successfully or efficiently and to inspire confidence. It's the talents, attitudes, skills, knowledge and style and the means by which we produce results. Competency also includes results: our track record and performance, getting the right things done and being seen as predictable and consistent. What do we contribute to the company, brand and relationships? We can't hide from our results.

Broken trust is always a failure of one or the other. Covey research also shows, "The quickest way to decrease trust is to violate a behavior of character. The quickest way to increase trust is to demonstrate a behavior of competence."

Trust is like a bank account. When we start any new relationship (whether that be with a company, a brand, or a new friend,) our account is empty. Neither one of the "parties" has made any deposits into it. Trust is low. We may still be polite and accepting of certain behaviors (mainly to meet societal norms), but we're not about to spill out our deepest, darkest secrets to those people we have just met! As we spend time with each other we either put more deposits into that account or we make withdrawals. Of course if we're starting with nothing and we keep taking from the account, it doesn't take long for trust to be broken and the other party to abandon the relationship because of trust bankruptcy!

However, if we continue to show elements of character and competency through integrity, intent, capabilities and results, we in turn will build up our trust bank account. In order to build trust we must show up, on time, ready to go again and again and again. We must have repetitive performance in competency and character.

Likewise, if there is enough in the account and the relationship is strong, we can also take out deposits if needed without too much negative effect. "I'm sorry I'm late," is a statement we're usually willing to look past because of a history of showing up on time. Our trust bank account is strong and we trust they'll make a deposit later on. Even an apology is a deposit. However, be late too often, and the relationship will suffer because, "We just don't trust that they won't run late all the time."

One bad meal at our favorite restaurant leaves us usually saying, "Oh that's unfortunate, they must have been off tonight. I wonder if their good cook is out sick?" When you have built a strong, sturdy relationship and trustworthy brand, most likely there is breathing room for error. I will caution you however that with brands and multiple options in the marketplace, the room for error is a small margin. Also, in this day of social media, remember that an individual has the capacity to tell countless others about the problem which then they see as their problem as well.

Trust is about being authentic, true to self and others, and saying what you mean and meaning what you say.

We, as a community, have recently been dealing with some trust issues. Although the initial "trustbuster" act was egregious, I would also encourage all of us to give the benefit of the doubt and second chances to those who have broken our trust. True, we must see remedial action, people must be held accountable, we must see demonstrations of competency and character in order to rebuild and regain our trust. But we as citizens must also be willing to forgive if those that have broken our trust are making every effort to remedy the situation.

Finally, as my father might encourage all of us, we must deal with these delicate relationships in trust with "calmness and maturity."

Matt Harrington is executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce.


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