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mentalist: speaker and entertainer

The Hidden Barriers to Trust

How elevating your trust level improves your brand, relationships, and bottom line

It’s often been said that we only do business with people we know, like, and trust. To get potential customers to know us, we use effective marketing strategies. The “like” factor is achieved through creating a brand that people are attracted to and appreciate. The piece that often gets overlooked and undervalued is “trust.”

And trust may well be the most important piece of all.


High trust enables your organization to get more done, make more money, retain great employees, and even feel better. It is the grease that makes collaborative relationships easier, accelerating decision making and operations.

Lack of trust, however, is expensive. As Professor John Whitney of the Columbia Business School says, “Mistrust doubles the cost of doing business.”


In his book, “The Speed of Trust,” Stephen M.R. Covey likens low trust to a tax on your business. Likewise, high trust is a dividend that acts as a performance multiplier “elevating and improving every dimension of your organization and your life.”


We know intuitively that for people to trust us we need to keep our commitments, have credibility, and be transparent in what we say and do. There is one essential element to being trustworthy that is not quite so obvious but opens the door to trust-based relationships: to be trusted, you need to extend trust to others.

Trust is a two-way street. People are more likely to trust you if they sense that you trust them. Unfortunately, we humans have subconscious impulses that are barriers to developing trust.

Subconscious Suspicion
The ancient automatic part of our brain that works in the subconscious is always on high alert, always on the lookout for potential threats. Just like how holding a hammer makes everything look like a nail, if you are always looking for threats, even unconsciously, everything can look like a potential threat.


Psychologists call this the negativity bias. When we have uncertainty about someone or their intentions, we assume the negative. You do it. Your customers do it. Your employees do it. We jump to negative conclusions quickly and easily

without giving it a second thought.


We have a word for negative assumptions – suspicion. You may not think you are a suspicious person, but a deep-seated part of you certainly is.

Suspicion is more pervasive now than it has ever been.  Click bait, fake news, robo-calls, scammers, spam – all combine to create in us a mindset based on mistrust and suspicion. Add to that the decline of trust we have in the media and our political leaders, and it’s a wonder we trust anyone.  We often question others’ motivations before we even engage with them, creating an underlying base of distrust.

The trust edge
The good news is that if we convey an open and honest level of trust towards our customers, colleagues, team members and employees, we are perceived as a refreshing and more trustworthy alternative. You and your business have a golden opportunity to stick out in a positive way amongst your peers.

So how can we develop a trusting disposition in ourselves when there is so much fraud and deceit poking us in the face?


Here are some steps that can help:

1)    Examine your relationships. Take an inventory of your current relationships with individual clients, potential clients, partners, and employees. Are there any with whom you have a low trust relationship? 


2)    Consider the reason for the mistrust. Is it well-founded or is it suspicion based on uncertainty? Has that person or organization given you a solid reason not to trust them?


3)    Open up. Decide what action you can take, no matter how small, to exhibit trust toward them. Be transparent. Be vulnerable. By taking a small leap of faith they can see and appreciate, they will be inclined to increase their trust in you as well.


4)    Make trust your default. Assume positive intent instead of requiring others to earn your trust. Treat them as if they are trust-worthy until they do something to earn your mistrust. This takes some guts because we are fighting against our natural instincts of suspicion and risk-avoidance.


Next level relationships
Your relationships with all of your partners – suppliers, buyers, employees and other stakeholders – depend on a basis of trust to function at a high level, low on friction and high on value.


Is the foundation of your business relationships one of high trust or low trust? Take some time to review each one. Is it humming along like a well-oiled machine, or is suspicion clogging up the works? 

See what you can do to increase the trust level in those relationships that need work. Your reputation, brand and bottom line depend on it.


Steve Haffner

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Steve Haffner is a keynote speaker and decision performance specialist, helping leaders and professionals improve their decision skills by unmasking the mental illusions, shortcuts, and biases that undermine effective decision making.

His varied experience includes a successful 30 year career as a systems engineer, software developer, business analyst and vice-president. He launched his own business in 2011, providing corporate and association engagement as a speaker, magician and mentalist.

He is the author of the Invisible Mind Blocks newsletter and the ebook 7 Strategies for Making Great Decisions. Program and booking information is available at

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