Building trust in others

#59, May 16, 2024

Once upon a time, in a tech org not far away, there was a leader…

An engineering manager was observing the discussion during the retro meeting of his team.

A few software engineers were sharing their frustrations with their product manager who was living in another country and was part of the client’s team. They were saying that the product manager doesn’t trust their opinion. They were feeling like second-hand people. And that only when the engineering manager presented the team’s position, then the product manager would listen.

The engineering manager was wondering how to coach his people the skill of becoming a trusted advisor so that the product manager would listen to them.

Hi 🙂 Hari here.

/* I started writing this sitting in the living room on a rainy Thursday morning.

My mood was a bit down these days ‘cause I got sick a bit over the weekend, my recurrent sinusitis is now in full make-my-life-miserable mode & my team Spurs lost to Man City 2 nights ago.

But, on the upside – me & my partner finished the last season of The Walking Dead, which we started 3 months ago + I’m listening to this amazing voice I recently discovered */

Today’s tale is focused on how to quickly gain trust when you start working with new people (clients, bosses, people on your team).

Before we start

Vasi has already covered plenty on the topic.

You can read on the two types of trust, how Petya and I quickly gained her trust when she first met us + how to gain authority.

But as yesterday Petya and I did a training session with leaders in tech on the topic, my mind is fresh and I thought I’d give you some of my examples & hints.

I shared these thoughts in a LinkedIn post yesterday.

You can download the pdf, which I used for the post if you want to pass it along to people on your team.

The rest of the newsletter is following closely the pdf.

Why people trust you as an advisor?

People treat you as a trusted advisor when you have checked successfully 4 elements.
2 are more related to the word trust.
2 are more related to the word advisor.

If people trust you, it means you’ve built both cognitive and affective trust.

Cognitive trust is the belief people have in your professional competence and abilities.

Affective trust is the belief people have that you are connected on an emotional and human level.

↳ when you go see a doctor,
you expect to trust them cognitively
↳ when you go see a friend,
you expect to trust them affectively

/* Affective trust is seriously underestimated in work context. */

If people look for your advice, it means you’ve balanced greatly between understanding them in-depth and providing them guidance.

Understanding in-depth is the ability to get a clear understanding of their needs, but also get the bigger picture and their “why”.

Providing guidance is the ability to not only solve their problems, but also guide them along the way.

↳ that’s what experts do:
give you what you need,
not what you want
The image shows a girl in front of a blackboard, drawing the ups and downs of a team's development. On one axis is time and on the other is performance.
↳ that’s what advisors do:
they lead you
they support you
they challenge you

How I become a trusted advisor

These are the principles I follow.
These are the principles we teach people in tech.Keep in mind that these elements are interconnected.
They happen in parallel and also accumulate over time./* A note here – these principles are focused on the communication aspect. But all the communication in the world can’t help you if you don’t deliver what you promise and your advice is poor. But lots of tech people I’ve seen do amazing job, yet their clients don’t trust them. It’s usually because they’ve not communicated properly. */

How I build cognitive trust

1. I share my experience
I give specific examples from my experience

2. I show my expertise
I give details from ‘under the hood’, but use their words

3. I communicate transparently
I explain what will happen next
If there is a problem – I explain what led to here

4. I set clear expectations
I promise what I can deliver
I don’t promise everything & I don’t promise nothing
I don’t promise what they want to hear

How I build affective trust

1. I show vulnerability
I share personal information, opinions, experience

2. I respond to what they share
I don’t ignore
I react empathetically

3. I share observations
I say something I’ve seen related to them

4. I ask personal questions
I show interest
I am curious about them as a person

An example from A Leader’s Tale’s welcome email where I show you I’m a human being, just like you:

How I understand in-depth

1. I seek clarity
I validate & paraphrase what they have said to confirm my understanding

2. I explore their interests & needs
I go beyond what they request
I ask questions on why they need it

3. I show I understand them
I express my understanding with the intent for them to be sure

4. I have a long-term mindset
I think outside of the current scope – I understand their business & their problems

An example from A Leader’s Tale where I always begin with a real story to show I understand your struggle and needs:

How I provide guidance

1. I identify potential problems
I anticipate problems & communicate them as early as possible

2. I share my recommendation
I provide different options for solving a problem, give details on the pros & cons, the risks & the outcomes, but I also recommend a solution

3. I talk even when it’s difficult
I have difficult conversations where I need to challenge them and say things they don’t want to hear

4. I show long-term partnership
I seek to understand & act upon how I can be helpful beyond the current project

An example from A Leader’s Tale where I give you solutions to leadership problems & bring awareness to typical leadership blind spots:

How to become a trusted advisor
(the checklist)

  1. Build cognitive trust to show you’re a professional
  2. Build affective trust to connect on a human level
  3. Show understanding depth to show you get them
  4. Provide guidance to show you can lead them to where they want

… and the team lived happily ever after.

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