The Chemistry of Trust

Published on June 18, 2020

I just googled “trusted advisor” and here is what I found:

•  33 definitions
• 18 formulas (the most notable being from “The Trusted Advisor” by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, Robert M. Galford )
• 23 training programs
• 8 industry based surveys and reports

All in the first three Google pages, many asserting that understanding how to be a trusted advisor was simple!!

Whatever the definition, formula or survey platform might be, it’s probably an understatement to say if ever there was a time to be in such a trusted position in a B2B context, it’s now!!

Businesses need great thinking, perspectives, advice, options and commitment to a relationship in ways most of us may have never experienced. Some businesses have unseen opportunities before them and others, obviously, face serious challenges.

Whatever the description, that “trusted” position is where a client perceives strategic value in a relationship with you based on their business imperatives and your capabilities where they invest in a relationship with you.

That trusted position and value can equally apply to our internal relationships.

Gallup International conducts a range of research studies and surveys on trust in leadership and factors contributing to organisational excellence. In one such study (15,000 people in 15 countries), the most important factor that resulted in trust in individual leaders was honesty. The two biggest contributors to lack of trust in leaders were self-interest and not doing what they said they would do. All three are important to understanding the chemistry of trust.

There is a powerful hormone present in all of us – oxytocin, “the love drug”. Oxytocin is a reproductive hormone which researchers believe encourages social and bonding behaviour, also labelled the “Trust and Lust Chemical” in the early 2000’s.
In a Harvard Business Review article “The Neuroscience of Trust”, Paul J. Zak “derived a mathematical relationship between trust and economic performance, including the impact of natural drivers of trust such as oxytocin.” describing the social, legal, and economic environments that cause differences in trust”. He described the benefits of trust in business as:
• 74% less stress
• 106% more energy
• 50% higher productivity
• 13% fewer sick days
• 76% more engagement
• 29% more satisfaction with their lives
• 40% less burnout.
If you could translate these impacts into your client relationships, how could it be!!.

Dale Carnegie conducted a survey of more than 1,600 consumers in the largest markets worldwide to examine what they confirmed as a fundamental principal that still exists in the 21st century business: reciprocal trust between a client and their business partner. They defined “trust” as two core elements:
1. “the customer’s perception of the business partner’s credibility and,
2. the extent to which the client believes the business partner is concerned with doing what is right for them.
The first part of this definition involves the more objective, cognition-oriented belief that the business partner has the necessary competence and capability to be believed, while the second part involves the emotional feelings of security (or insecurity) regarding the business partner’s motivations and whether they will behave in a reliable and caring way.”
They compared two key elements of such a trusted position in a buyer and business partner relationship as both an outcome and driver of trust and developed their Sales Model with Customer Loyalty and Outcomes, as illustrated:

The Right Chemistry – Thinking about Our Position
Again, however we want to label a trusted advisor position, we can only view ourselves through the eyes of the customer.

Qualifications, breadth of experience, accounting skill, legal knowledge, engineering precision, architectural (and other forms of) creativity, technical knowledge with access to associated resources probably gives us the opportunity to be considered for a seat at the table, but only if the client sees us as strategically important to their business.

Thinking about the client’s business objectives and the issues, challenges and opportunities they have in achieving them, especially now, present the lens through which we actually earn that seat at the table and the opportunity to seriously create value to the client and ourselves.

Our Chemistry – here are some objectives to consider:
• to be a true consultant as a business partner
• to achieve a personal reputation so the customer sees us a valued partner and advisor
• shift from addressing tactical needs to developing a strategic business partnership
• and help stakeholders to consider new approaches for success

Our Ingredients:
1. Rapport – Build trust
• Assess your communication skills and style
• Recognise how our attitude affects image
• Discover your position as a professional
• Analyse and develop professional style
• Explore factors that create impressions and image
• Reinforce the importance of trust
• Strategically frame our role and initiatives
2. Establish business and emotional context
• Assist clients and stakeholders in thinking through the broader context of their needs
• Follow a consultative questioning process to determine the stakeholder’s logical and emotional needs
• Use robust dialogue to earn the other person’s respect and trust
3. Evolve strategies, solutions and tactics
• Frame solutions in a unique way to each stakeholder
• Appeal to logic and emotions
• Present persuasive, convincing points-of-view
4. Manage resistance and conflict
• Broker and develop ongoing internal relationships
• Deal with difficult people, conflict and negotiation
• Earn our Position
5. Sustainability and Growth
• Present application of all concepts in a real-time context
• Sustain a culture of leadership and influence
• Reflect on leadership breakthroughs and plan for the future

Once you have earned this trusted position, it becomes a challenging and exciting opportunity to deliver serious value to clients but it has to be maintained.

Thinking about the chemistry of trust helps see it as a valuable bond with clients to support and enable their businesses to navigate challenging times. That’s where the fun starts!!

1. The Neuroscience of Trust, Paul J. Zak, Harvard Business Review, January–February 2017 Issue
2. The Trusted Advisor, by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, Robert M. Galford , Simon & Schuster, January 14, 2002
3. Trust is Dead. Long Live Trust! Dale Carnegie white paper,