A great way to quickly build deep trust remotely
Updated: Jun 7
A friend of mine says that “the longest distance between two points...is a shortcut.” Despite the title, there are no shortcuts in building trust. As Lolly Daskal rightfully points out, “Trust is not a matter of technique, tricks, or tools but of character. We are trusted because of our way of being, not because of our polished exteriors or our expertly crafted communications.” Trust is built slowly over years of consistent action, or perhaps more quickly through moments that challenge us with a significant test of integrity. It is hard to earn trust and easy to lose. There are lots of resources to inspire and remind about being trustworthy. I enjoy 50 Trust Quotes That Prove Trust is Everything from Lifehacker.
So how can there be a great way to build deep trust quickly? Especially in a remote setting? I will outline a path to create a “chain of trust” forged from deep trust you have already earned with a trusted connector. Approach the interaction with empathy, a core mindset from human centered design. Pay attention to your “digital body language” to create an excellent first impression, and use a video call to convey the most cues for trust forming. Most importantly, use an introduction by a trusted connector to build a “chain of trust.” This transference of trust is the ideal starting point in a new business relationship.
Build attunement. Use your head and your heart to understand. In To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink calls taking perspective and building empathy “attunement.” Pink says that to move others to act, you must be attuned to what and how they think and to what and they feel. He means attunement to be a deep understanding of the thoughts and emotions of another. This attunement is what we mean when we describe the mindset of empathy in human centered design. You will be using this attunement to frame a potential collaboration that works for them and you. In other words, be attuned to yourself at the same time! There is another reason that referencing the conversation to human centered design is helpful. Creativity is often required to form a business relationship.
Beyond building attunement, you must also signal that attunement with intentional, strategic mirroring. Mirror body language and verbal cues. If they say to you, “I hear what you are saying,” you might later say, “that sounds great.” If they say, “I see what you mean,” you might choose, “that looks great.”
Mirroring is a powerful technique like the use of humor. Done well, it can be useful. Done poorly, it can be damaging. Daniel Pink gives a simple and highly effective form of mirroring. Repeat back word for word what you have heard to cement understanding and attunement. As a next step, take notice of when you reflect body language or verbal cues during a videoconference. What is the effect on the conversation? Mirroring also influences the impression you create in communicating.
First impressions matter. Pay attention to your “digital body language.” It is no surprise that first impressions matter. According to Psychology Today, people form persistent first impressions of our trustworthiness. The most important signals are around how we look and sound to others. Video calls can provide these signals. How can we be sure we provide the cues to create an excellent first impression?
“How to Make a Great First Impression,” by Rebecca Knight, is a practical guide. One of her powerful pieces of advice is to prepare and outline the conversation you want to have in advance. This preparation will help in the clarity and simplicity of your storytelling. You will convey more of your message if you use fewer words, spoken more slowly, and with more space around them. She also recommends engaging through a shared connection. Your conversational style should be relaxed and confident. How can we further manage our digital first impressions?
Erica Dhawan gave a keynote talk about digital body language at the ATD 2020 Virtual Conference. By that, she means “the new cues and signals in our digital conversations.” She recommends that you “share your mind” in your digital conversations. Give context, and make sure to be explicit about your thinking. “This is an exciting opportunity.” It helps, too, to read your digital communications assuming the best. Practice optimism! Otherwise, it is far to easy to misinterpret and introduce stress and communication gaps in the process. Be intentional as you arrange the introductory meeting. Pay attention to the timing of your emails. You can “schedule send” so that they arrive at a courteous time. Check the tone and grammar of your emails. A tool like Grammarly can help.
For your videoconferences, Carol Kinsey Goman gives eight body language tips for video meetings. Some of the tips are traditional, like making eye contact. Some are video-specific, like slowing down your hand gestures, so they don’t appear jerky. Pay attention to the quality of your webcam, and the surroundings or background you choose. You should also make sure your meeting will not be distracted or disconnected by unreliable internet bandwidth or device battery.
Here are some more tips that you can adapt to your videoconferences. Marianna Pogosyan wrote about the work of John Antonakis. He identified three non-verbal ways that you can improve the impression you create. Vary the volume and rhythm of your speech. Animate your facial expressions, and use gestures. You can use all three of these techniques in your videoconferences. In my experience, these take effort to use. The good news is that one naturally unlocks the other two. Use gestures, and more dynamic vocals and facial expressions will come along for the ride. I got that tip from Jerry Weissman for presenting in person, and it works over video as well.
I have started using gestures in my video meetings. I will have to remember to slow them down! Changing body position counts as a gesture. To emphasize a point or show heightened interest, I may lean in towards the camera.
Create a “chain of trust” by a trusted connection. Attunement and awareness of the impressions you create alone can’t create deep trust. There is a simple and effective method for that. Use a trusted connector to build a chain of trust. I made use of this technique to forge new business relationships recently.
The connector needs to have deep trust with you, and with the person they introduce. The introduction should be by video. All three of you should participate. By joining the meeting, the connector signals the strength of the referral. The connector can also help with your “attunement.” Take time at the beginning of the meeting to build the chain of trust.
Don’t skip this crucial step. Build your chain of trust through storytelling. Let the connector tell the stories of how they know you both. If needed, elicit this through guiding questions. Say thank you for the relationship and the introduction. Shared respect and appreciation are powerful and positive. Introductions may take 10 minutes or so of a 30-minute first video call. Do not underestimate the power of storytelling. Carmine Gallo wrote a best selling book on this, The Storyteller's Secret.
So, now you are less than 15 minutes into your introductory video call. You have a newly forming chain of trust. What are you going to do with it? Again, use the power of storytelling. Set the stage for the future business relationship with a brief story. In a minute or two, you can tell a compelling story of why a new business relationship makes sense. Connect to the conversation so far, and base it on your attunement to how they will think and feel about your proposal. Make sure that you convey what is in it for them, and what is in it for you. For inspiration on the types of stories that can work, read Carmine Gallo’s book.
Have a conversation around this story, and work together to create a potential ending. Continue to focus on attunement towards your prospective business partner. Take perspective: What are they thinking? Build empathy: What do they feel? This exploration of the possible new relationship is critical. Don’t forget to save five minutes at the end of your conversation to set action steps. Here is a pro tip: after your introduction, send a thank you email within an hour. According to Erica Dhawan, this gives it the power of “a virtual handshake.”
Who could your trusted connector be? Recall I’ve had success with this recently. In one case, my trusted connector and I have known each other professionally for many years. My trusted connector in the second situation has known me for only a couple of years. It worked because our shared experience was an intense project, very much like the one he brought me to join. Both of those situations have started great. Best of all, I have returned the favor and connected my longtime colleague with another trusted partner—for a possible deal that involves all three of us!
Remember, I am assuming you are trustworthy. You honor your commitments, act with integrity, and communicate truthfully. The idea of a chain of trust is to forge a trusted relationship by capitalizing on your trustworthiness.
You can and should practice building attunement whenever you can. The same goes for being aware of the impressions you are creating through your digital body language. Using a trusted connector and an introduction meeting, as I described here, is a great technique to build deep trust. It is asking a lot of your most trusted connections to do this, so make sure you choose with care when to apply this technique. If there is a particularly valuable new business relationship that you are eager to form, and you want a head start at building deep trust, then create a chain of trust.
Let me know what you think, and please share with me examples where you used some of these methods.