As a healthcare leader, you’ll encounter plenty of situations that require you to build or repair trust quickly. That’s particularly true if you’re new to a role or organization, if you need to address a (real or perceived) faux pas, or if you seek to introduce changes that are likely to encounter resistance.
In my work as an executive coach to healthcare leaders, I have to move from “nice to meet you” to “trusted thought partner” very rapidly. In some cases, I’m hired by executives to work with their teams, meaning my coachee may not have sought out a coaching relationship on their own initiative.
How do you move quickly to a position of trust? I’d love to share how I’ve found success in building trust quickly, and how you can do the same.
Five keys to accelerating trust
▷ Leverage referent power.
Let’s say you need to build trust quickly with “Joe.” Whom does Joe trust? Can you “borrow” their influence? Often new clients will connect with me because someone they respect said, “You need to reach out to Lee,” or have recommended I connect with them for guidance and support.
Note that some of the best influencers — people who have Joe’s ears and respect — may not have a lofty job title, high rank in the industry, or any desire for the spotlight. And yet, people in the organization greatly respect their insight and follow their lead.
That’s called referent power: Unlike the limited power that’s inherent in job titles or organizational hierarchies, referent power stems from someone’s ability to be trusted. Examples might include a clinician whose opinion Joe values, a former coworker who understands Joe’s situation, or a peer working at another health system.
▷ Practice humble curiosity.
Many consultants walk into an organization eager to demonstrate how great they are and how they can transform the organization. Often this happens before any real connection is made, and it comes across as empty and tone-deaf.
Instead, try entering the relationship with humble curiosity about the other person. Be curious about things that are fascinating to them and about them. Show interest in their strengths, experiences, life journey and values — then watch that curiosity fuel trust.
▷ Listen intently.
You might have heard the adage that most people listen to formulate their response or counter-argument, instead of listening to understand. If you’re looking to build trust, you need to listen to the other person like they’ve never been listened to before.
There’s an old anecdote about Churchill and Chamberlain, two British prime ministers known for their charisma. The story goes that Churchill was known for his ability to dazzle audiences with his speeches and personality, while Chamberlain was known for his ability to listen and make others feel important. Put another way, Churchill was the most fascinating person you’d ever meet, while Chamberlain made you feel like you were the most fascinating person he’d ever met.
Like with Chamberlain, I want people to know that I’m genuinely interested in them and find them fascinating. I don’t have to agree with them; I just need to hold them with respect. You do that with deep listening.
▷ Let people know you see them as they are.
Part of building trust is supporting people when they display or disclose a vulnerability. In that moment, hold them with respect and curiosity, not judgment.
This is where our awareness of different personality styles and assessments become extra valuable. I often refer to it as a treasure map for the quickest path to trust. If I understand what someone values and communication styles that might cause them to tune in or out, I can navigate that map very quickly.
I’m reminded of a time when I met with a new client for the first time. As I talked, he seemed to grow aggravated. I then paused and acknowledged the disconnect: “I think I’m more verbose than you’d like me to be.” He said, “yes!” I confirmed that he responded best to succinct facts and data points.
Once I adjusted to his preferred communication style, he began to open up. By the end of the day, that executive was highly engaged and asking me for the kinds of insights I had attempted to share earlier.
▷ Offer candor.
Do you ever describe yourself as “brutally honest?” I encourage you to be “compassionately honest” instead. In my interactions, I aim to be candid in ways that draw all previous steps to deliver guidance with respect and appreciation, and maybe say things that other people won’t say.
This might take time. I sometimes sit with someone who’s frustrated with me and spend the first hour (or three) just listening to them. People will never hear you until you hear them first.
In conclusion, if you’re not currently in a situation where you need to build trust quickly, you soon will be. When that time comes, the practices we’ve covered will give you the best chance (and shortest path) to healthy, high-trust relationships.