Building Trust with Employees and Guests in Today’s World

Jun 11, 2018

Most people are familiar with the concept of trust when it comes to personal relationships, but what about professional relationships?

I have been working with more and more companies that struggle with trust. A lack of trust in the company culture will lead to internal and external challenges. When I think of companies that struggle with trust, it’s apparent that it’s never about a single major situation; it’s about many issues that happen over time.

Ron Zemke, author of Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service, said that when working with customers, you should practice the following techniques to build trust:

  • Communicate frequently
  • Develop openness
  • Show warmth
  • Stick to the truth
  • Show confidence

Keep these techniques at the forefront of your mind when working with internal and external customers. I have surveyed different employees over time, and when I ask them which of the techniques are present in their companies, I often hear, “Show confidence?” They usually say it like a question. This clues me in that there are trust challenges in the company culture.

A breakdown in communication is one of the most common issues that leads to a lack of trust. When employees and guests feel like they know what is going on, it builds trust. When they are told the company operates on a “need-to-know” basis, it compromises transparency and makes them feel like things are being hidden from them. A severe lack of communication can even create a fear-based environment. When employees are not proactive communicators, it can upset customers as well, such as when guests are not told that the home they rented is still under construction.

The best thing we can do is to be transparent and act out of love by ensuring that guests feel informed and empowered to make decisions for themselves. When we don’t share information, we are acting out of fear—fear that the guest won’t rent the home and revenue will be lost.

When developing openness, it’s important to get vulnerable. Vulnerability can look different to everyone. For reservation sales calls, sharing something personal that makes a connection with the caller is key. Examples include connecting with a guest about his or her hometown if you grew up in the same community or sharing some of your favorite local trails if you are an avid hiker. But keep in mind that you don’t want to make a caller regret getting vulnerable by sharing something personal that overshadows the situation. In an extreme example, this could happen if a caller shared that he or she is coming because a family member is in the last phases of life due to cancer and the employee shared that he has had family members pass from cancer in the last two years.

For leaders, the act of becoming vulnerable might be the underlying issue that has made them unapproachable or unhappy over the last year, leading to stress in the company. When we actually get vulnerable, it builds trust. Yet we are in a world that doesn’t always embrace vulnerability, and sometimes makes people feel like it makes them appear weak instead of confident. If you fear vulnerability, I encourage you to watch Brené Brown’s Ted Talk on vulnerability. It changed my life!

We are living in a world where people crave connection—and vulnerability builds this connection. Showing warmth includes empathy and compassion. If a potential guest calls and shares that he and his family are bringing his mother for her last trip back to the community where they grew up, acknowledge how hard that must be. Make sure you don’t simply say nothing at all. Instead say, “I can’t even imagine how hard this must be for you and your family.” But don’t try to put a silver lining on it by saying, “At least she will get to see her hometown for the last time.”

Leaders can also show compassion when employees are experiencing something terrible in their personal lives by acknowledging that they need personal time.

Another example is sharing an employee’s situation with another employee. Brown references keeping information that is personal to others in the “vault.” Some people think that talking about others and their issues builds connections, but actually, it creates distrust. I always wonder, if you are talking about others to me, what are you saying to others about me?

Always stick with the truth. It sounds pretty simple, right? But “avoiding information” can also translate to not telling the truth. If a house has dated furniture and décor, don’t sell it like it has just been remodeled. Use words such as “rustic” or “comfortable” instead. As a leader, don’t encourage your employees to lie about homes or local construction projects that are underway. It always comes back around: “What we allow, we encourage.” When situations are not communicated truthfully, it will affect how employees communicate with guests.

Confidence comes through in words, tone, and body language. Using a good amount of “ums” when communicating may express a lack of confidence (similar to dead air). I remember a past manager who used to say, “Bad on me,” when he would try new things and they didn’t work out. Instead, be confident and willing to try new things. Learn from them, and be okay with failure. Brainstorm with your team on how a bad situation could have been handled differently, and use it as a trust- and team-building experience. There is a difference between being humble and lacking confidence.

Roy Lewicki and Edward C. Tomlinson from Ohio State University found the following techniques for cultivating trust in working relationships:

  • Do your job well.
  • Be congruent.
  • Honor commitments.
  • Communicate transparently
  • Be compassionate toward others

Lewicki and Tomlinson believe that trust is a function of character and competence. I have found that some employees aren’t able to live up to some of these techniques because they are held back by the desire to over-give. When they can’t or won’t honor their commitments, they are bogged down with shame, holding them back from communicating transparently. I have also found that some employees have high expectations for themselves, translating to high expectations of others that often hinder their ability to be compassionate.

Simon Sinek believes that a team is not a group of people working together. A team is a group of people who trust each other. I encourage everyone to think about the different concepts of trust. Dig deep to see where you can improve your trust techniques as an employee or a leader, and build reliability by keeping your word.

Trust is the glue of life. It is the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships” – Stephen R Covey