Glenn Urban at MIT teaches us about the importance of the power of trust.  Glenn observes, as have many others, that we have shifted from a mass-media, high promotion world (that effectively ended at the start of this decade) to one focused on relationships and two-way communications.  In this new world, the single most important thing that matters is trust.   (For more on this shift, check out Clay Shirkey’s TED@State talk, below)

Ironically, building trust is easier than it looks – be generous, act consistently, and make promises that you can and do keep.   (The harder part is doing this within an organization that has thrived on another way of doing business for decades.  But it’s important to remember that being trustworthy really isn’t difficult at all).

For example:

I’ve been playing with an out-of-production squash racquet for about three years now.  Since squash is played in an indoor court with cement walls, the racquets break often, so it’s common to go through 1-2 racquets a year.  Since my racquet model (a yellow-and-black Dunlop Hot Melt, if anyone knows where I can still dig one up) is out of production, I’m down to a single racquet, and I’ve no choice but to buy a new model – with a different feel that will play differently.

Squash is a niche sport in most places, including New York, and it’s hard to find stores that sell squash racquets, and harder still to find stores that demo racquets (let you pay to rent a racquet for a day or two before deciding which to buy).

A fellow player recommended Grand Central Racquet, and I went there this afternoon and met Tony, the store’s owner.  Together, we picked two racquets for me to demo.  I was a little rushed, hoping to catch a train, and was dreading the inevitable swiping of my credit card, preapproval of $300+ on my card (the value of the two racquets), maybe even making a copy of my drivers license…all the necessary evils of walking out of the store with a few hundred dollars worth of unpaid-for merchandise.

I’ve been trained so effectively by our trust-free world that I was beside myself when Tony took out a pad of paper, wrote down my name, my phone number, and the models of the two racquets I’m going to demo, and asked for $10 (cash was fine).  No approvals, no verification, no nothing.  “Enjoy them, and we’ll see you on Wednesday,” was all he said.

Why does this work for Tony?  How does he know I’m not going to run off with the racquets?  Did he make some sort of judgment call about me personally (I doubt it) or is this just how he runs his business?

The point is, he is taking a risk.  But he’s decided that being generous and trusting of me in a way that never happens in the big city in the 21st century makes sense.  And by giving me this gift, he’s taking someone who could be a lifelong customer – but who has the option of buying online for 20% less – and giving that person a reason to be loyal to him.

I’m sure the lawyers and the rule-makers and the people whose job it is to say ‘no’ would tell Tony that he’s crazy, and maybe he is.  But if trust is all that really matters today, if success is about building communities of trust, and if trust can be established so quickly and easily, we all need to find ways to act a little more like Tony, and we’ll have to break some rules to get there.

Do you have any great trust-building stories you’d like to share?

add to : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

5 thoughts on “Trust

  1. We ate at a hole-in-the-wall french restaurant here in Atlanta only to realize at the end of the meal that they don’t take plastic.

    Embarrassed, I explained to the waiter that I was going to quickly go home and return while my wife waited.

    She insisted that we not worry about it and just bring by the money when we can some other time.


    We tipped $25 out of the sheer good will she had shared with us.

  2. Did you mention the fellow player that referred you to Tony? Tony’s trust may not have been in you, but
    In someone he has a longstanding relationship with.

  3. No I didn’t mention anything at all. Pretty sure from the experience that this is just how he does business.

  4. As many experts often remind us, trust is hugely important in management, as well as in customer service. From my experience working in a multicultural team for an American non-profit based in Palestine (, I’ve observed two very simple actions to build trust among co-workers.

    The first is listening. By taking the time to ask questions and listen to the answers, people understand that their colleagues (especially supervisors) trust their experience in their role, and ability to analyse that experience. One must listen without judging to create the trust that all opinions can be shared openly. Of course, the listener also has to then consider the speaker’s perspective in subsequent decisions in order to cement the trust, and ensure continued open communication.

    A second simple action that fosters trust is walking away. By removing oneself from a situation, a supervisor can demonstrate that s/he trusts the people directly involved enough to handle the situation on their own. The problem can be addressed in a group later to assess what caused it in the first place, and how it was handled. But by stepping away (at certain times, of course, not deserting them in any moment of challenge!), I find that I allow my colleagues the freedom and authority to problem solve very productively. A large part of this success is their knowledge and expertise, but the gesture of trust is an important empowering factor.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.