By Younas Chaudhary
We are all tribal at heart, and trust binds us together.
During my childhood, farmers used to work for my father in our village in Pakistan, and I remember an old man and his seven children who would help plough the land and do other work for him. The old man had worked for my grandfather for several years, and this was the second generation that was working for my father.
As a little boy, I wondered and would ask why they were sticking with us for such a long time. What made them so loyal without a written contract, generation after generation? The answer was simple: There was an element of trust between the old man and my father. My father would take care of the old man and his family, while they would secure a steady source of employment, generation after generation. Here, trust and a common feeling of mutual benefit brought them together.
The villagers, who were mostly illiterate, trusted their employers blindly. Once, the old man had to sell some of his animals to a stranger. Before signing the document, he brought it to my father and asked him if it was okay to be signed; and after getting my father’s approval, he went ahead and signed it. This happened because of the long-term trust that they had between themselves.
I learned later in life that it is not wise to trust someone blindly, as building trust takes a lot of time and experience. Often, I meet people who say they are very pious, God-loving, and God-fearing, and ask me for favors on that basis; but unless I see them actually serving God through their actions, I am rarely convinced of their faith.
Trust is a key factor that I look for while hiring people. How long has the person stayed in previous jobs? Is a person punctual, and does he/she honor their time commitments? Why is a person changing jobs? Hiring a person is expensive in time, training, and money. If the person has a habit of changing jobs quickly, he may be unreliable or untrustworthy—although I do understand that some who switch jobs to move up the career ladder have a valid reason for doing so.
According to the well-known social scientist, Robert Putnam, who has written extensively about the decline of trust in America, in 1960, social trust in America was at 55% but it fell to 34% by 1999 and has fallen further continuously over subsequent decades. “We sort of did trust one another, not perfectly, of course, but we did. Not compared to other countries and all that is declining, and I begin to worry,” he said.
Today, the trust between people and institutions is very complicated and falls into borderline absurdity. An example is visiting someone’s building to sign a deal. Even before you enter the premises, you are watched constantly. Then you have to sign a legal disclaimer before walking into the office, then you have to be escorted by someone. This is a classic example showing how little trust people have towards one another. If we could just trust each other as people of God and as fellow human beings, we wouldn’t need any of this show.
One challenge we face is that our reliance on social media for news and opinions has eroded trust between people and institutions. Today, it is too easy to tarnish a person’s image through social media. People seldom take time to find out the different sides of a story and instead trust the media and their peers without taking an unbiased view.
Another challenge is that trusting someone makes you vulnerable. Your emotional attachment with an individual over a long period of time can lead to trusting him/her blindly. Thus, it is true that you need tact, understanding, and a fair assessment of risk before entering into an agreement.
By contrast, radical honesty and transparency can help build trust over time, especially in work settings. In our companies, we have built a culture based on trust and transparency. For example, I leave my office door open, and employees can walk in and talk to me without any reservations or restrictions. Over the years, I have realized that in work and in life, unless you invest time in understanding people, it will take you a long time to build trust.
So here are a few tips to help you build trust:
- Be radically honest and transparent: Trust comes through honesty and transparency, so, ensure that you are building a culture where trust is the key to building relationships.
- Be patient: You cannot trust someone overnight, so you have to be patient.
- Make follow-up a priority: To build trust, you need to stay connected and provide prompt follow-up on issues that you need to address and respond to.
- Be a decisive thinker: Instead of blurting out a quick response on a particular issue, take time to think it over and then give a clear answer.
- Be humble: Show humility and admit the fact you are a human being who has made many mistakes, so you do not know everything and do not have all the answers.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making business decisions.