“Brands are all about trust. That trust is built in drops and lost in buckets.”
– Kevin Plank, Founder & CEO, Under Armour
Trust might be one of the most important factors in a company’s success. But it’s easily lost and hard to get back, not to mention it can make or break business relationships.
So how do you build trust? Start with these three basic people skills.
1. Active Listening
We’re taught how to be active listeners from an early age. But many of us forget what active listening means, and we plow over others in conversation, nod to make them think we’re listening, and become easily distracted during conversations.
Beyond hearing the words that are coming out of another person’s mouth and waiting your turn to speak, there are three important factors that make up our first skill of active listening:
- Removing distractions
- Body language
- Asking questions
Today’s attention spans are laughable, but what’s not funny is how easily it impacts your ability to build a trusting relationship with someone.
The least you can do for your clients is to give them your undivided attention during meetings and calls. Here are some easy suggestions to help you stay focused and build trust with your clients:
- Put away devices unless they’re needed for the meeting (silence them too)
- Only have up necessary tabs on your computer during conference calls
- Close out your email during calls so you’re not distracted by incoming news
- Seek a quiet place/use headphones to drown out background noise
You communicate a lot about your listening skills through body language. Start with focusing your attention and eyes on the speaker. Nodding appropriately and leaning forward shows the speaker that you’re interested. Facing the speaker is also important.
Body language to avoid would be anything that conveys you’re too relaxed, which can come off as disrespectful and unprofessional: leaning back excessively, checking your watch or phone, facing another direction.
Regurgitating what someone says does not equate to active listening. It might help you remember what they’ve said, but you need to dig deeper. Ask follow-up questions. Get clarity on a point. Ask about next steps. All of these demonstrate to your clients that you’re paying attention and care about what they have to say.
Active listening skills are a small part of great communication, our second basic people skill. But communicating well also involves:
- Tailoring your message for different audiences
- Following up when necessary
- Being transparent
All clients are different. Some need only the highlights, while others want and enjoy getting into the nitty-gritty. The higher up the person is within the company, the busier they are, which typically translates to relying only the most important information to them.
Questions you’ll want to ask yourself when it comes to tailoring your communication to your audience are: What do they care about most? What keeps them up at night? What are their needs right now?
You might be in the room with a number of people who have different needs. Does the accountant in the room need you to get to the bottom line? Does the marketing team need to know the details? Figuring out different communication styles will save you and your clients time, and it will help you develop a better connection with them.
Nobody complains about getting too many updates from someone they’re paying. Frequent communication far exceeds intermittent updates. The key is following up with relevant information. How do you know what’s relevant? Ask. Ask who needs what information, how often they’d like it, and in what form they’d like it (quick phone call, email, typed document, etc.).
This goes back to tailoring your message—delivering necessary info to the right individual, in the right way, and at the right time. Not only will clients appreciate the right kind of follow-up, but it will also strengthen their trust in you.
Lack of transparency with clients damages your trust and your company’s credibility. Most people can sniff out B.S., and it does your business no good to hide bad news or withhold necessary information.
When mistakes happen, be upfront with your clients and reach out as quickly as possible. Even better, come to them with recommended solutions so they know that you’re working to make things right.
Transparency is also about communicating your products and prices clearly with clients. Throwing in hidden fees or dancing around costs will frustrate your clients and create distrust.
While communication is a cornerstone of building trust with clients (and people in general), taking the time to get to know them and make them feel valued is equally important.
3. Personal Connection
That brings us to our third basic people skill: personal connection. What is personal connection? It can involve a lot of things, such as:
- Showing up
- Being your authentic self
- Showing genuine interest in others
- Spending quality time with others
It’s about being real and building a relationship with someone—a basic skill that’s becoming lost as we as we become more dependent on technology.
Half the battle is showing up for your clients. That means sticking to appointments, calling when you say you’re going to call, being dependable. If you frequently forget appointments, make yourself several reminders (phone, email, sticky note, etc.). You may not get a second chance if you stand up a client.
After you show up, the next step is being authentic. In other words, be yourself. Act in a way that’s congruent with your core values. Technology, social media in particular, has taught us how to be great pretenders—displaying only the good without any of the bad.
As a result, relationships are shallow. This goes beyond personal relationship and has seeped into the professional world. By being yourself, you encourage others to do the same, which not only strengthens your personal connection but also builds trust.
Two additional tenets of personal connection are caring and showing interest. Take the time to get to know your client’s problems and needs. Ask what else you can do for them. You’ll be rewarded for going the extra mile.
We also tend to forget that people are made up of more than their title and have lives outside of work. You’re building a relationship with a real person, which requires you to be understanding, have empathy, and to be patient.
Taking the time to work on these three basic people skills will not only improve your relationships with clients, but also with your employees and in your personal life. There are plenty of other people skills that help build trusting relationships, but master these, and your clients and bottom line will thank you for it.