Trust in me: simple communications key

An online poll by the Academy of Executive Coaching suggests when it comes to how leaders can best build and maintain trust, plain speaking is a must.

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Eight-three per cent of respondents to the coaching training provider’s survey report they are more likely to trust someone who uses simple language than someone hiding behind complicated wording. A further six in ten (57%) said people who give concise answers rather than going into more detail are also more believable.With trust – and a lack of it – a key issue in today's workplaces, the insights make interesting reading for nomadic leaders looking to build trust across cultural and international borders, as well as mobility, HR and people development teams tasked with identifying and supporting leadership development.

Mr Trump – a trustworthy leader?

In this current so-called post-truth, post-trust age, Gina Lodge, CEO of the Academy of Executive Coaching, describes how US president-elect Donald Trump has been so successful in connecting with people.Ms Lodge believes Mr Trump’s direct style, as well as his avoidance of conventional management speak, added to his appeal for voters.“During the election campaign, we saw how Trump deliberately used provocative language in his speeches,” observes Ms Lodge. “But he also used openly emotional language. He talked about his opponents being ‘mean’ to him or making ‘rude’ comments.“He avoids speaking in managerial clichés and uses simple, direct language,” Ms Lodge continues. “This, more than the meaning of what he says, is why he was able to connect with people in such a powerful way.”

Top management clichés to avoid

Falling back on management jargon and using words like “trust” or “honest” are also linked to heightening suspicion, rather than reassuring people, says the Academy of Executive Coaching. It offers ten phrases to avoid for people looking to build trust.
  1. If I’m honest…
  2. Let me be clear…
  3. Believe me…
  4. The honest truth is…
  5. The fact is…
  6. To be fair…
  7. In terms of…
  8. The real issue is…
  9. I understand what you are saying but…
  10. In all honesty…

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Leadership: words and deeds

A leader’s behaviour is also very important for influencing perceptions of trustworthiness, highlights the training body. As more companies seek to build flatter hierarchies and more open cultures “openness, calm rationality and benevolence” are increasingly prized character attributes in trusted leaders.By contrast, aggression, competitiveness and outspokenness – markers of a more adversarial culture – can raise questions about an individual’s trustworthiness, according to the Academy of Executive Coaching.“The boardroom has traditionally been a very aggressive, competitive space, illustrated by candidates on the Apprentice talking about how they’re ‘not here to make friends’,” says John Blakey, author of The Trusted Executive. “But as we move to a more open and transparent business landscape, this no longer works. Ideas of benevolence are becoming more and more important.”

Building leadership credibility in a post-trust age

So, what does it take to for leaders to build trust today? For Gina Lodge, it is the ability to speak from the heart. “Many companies pride themselves for understanding ‘soft skills’ and talking about the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ)," Ms Lodge explains.“But this is not enough. The word ‘intelligence’ makes it sound like a head skill when what is required is to speak openly from the heart, embracing benevolence, kindness, evangelism and love.”John Blakey adds: “I speak to lots of companies about the importance of evangelising about your business in order to win over new customers. One company asked if I could use a different word instead of ‘evangelise’ to make the message more in line with business talk even though my whole point was that organisations need to move away from the cold language of the boardroom and adopt the same tone that we use among friends and family – the people we trust most of all.”“If we use honest, transparent language at home and connect with each other there through recognising positive emotions, then it also makes sense to use this approach in business.”

For related news and features, see our leadership and management section.

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