The strongest networks are built on trust. In fact, network members who are seen as untrustworthy won’t remain in the network for very long. Trustworthiness, however, comprises a host of traits, and some are easily overlooked in the day-to-day business of living your life. Here’s how to cultivate this fundamental element in your personal brand and set up your network for success.
A recent blog post on the Harvard Business Review website examined methods for gaining the trust of a job interviewer. The author, Heidi Grant Halvorson, argues that two qualities matter more than all others in this scenario: warmth and competence.
“Warmth signals that you have good intentions toward the perceiver, and competence signals that you can act on those good intentions.”
But there’s no reason the same can’t be applied to building trust within your network. Collecting business cards and taking informational interviews doesn’t do much good if the people you’re trying to connect with don’t perceive you as a trustworthy individual. Why, then, would they send you their contacts as referrals?
So, how can you transmit trustworthiness to your network contacts when your communication may be limited to the occasional cup of coffee or email? Within the confines of the job interview process, there are several indicators that can signal warmth and competence, says Halvorson. But these are also the kinds of qualities you should be cultivating with every five-minute catch-up meeting or phone call:
1. Modesty: Your network contacts need to trust that you’re not trying to hit them up for a favor every time you reach out. You build a strong network by focusing on others. Focus on establishing a reputation as the guy who delivers when it comes to connecting other people, for jobs, business, etc.
2. Gratitude: Always, always, always say thank you for the favors—small and big—your contacts do for you. Besides it being the right thing to do, it will gratify your connections to know they helped make a difference.
3. Loyalty: Stay away from bashing one member of your network to another. It’s going to get around, and it’s the surest way to lose the trust of your peers.
4. Reliability: If you say you’re going to introduce your colleague to someone you know at one of his prospective client organizations, follow through. Reliability is the foundation of a strong relationship, and helps strengthen your reputation.
“You build a strong network by focusing on others.“
5. Interest: Trustworthiness requires face time, or a least phone time. Stay on top of what’s going on in your contacts’ careers and lives. Use promotions, lay-offs or new jobs as an opportunity to reach out and offer congratulations or help, and set up a meeting at a later date.
6. Affirmation: Halvorson writes about affirmation in the sense of acknowledging the skills of the person you hope hires you. You can do this in your network by following up with the people who helped you, not only to say thank you, but also to show them the impact of their generosity of time and energy. It will help strengthen the relationship and cement them as valued members of your network (and you as a member of theirs).
7. Empathy: Shared experiences help foster trust between people from otherwise disparate backgrounds. Your network should be diverse, but some piece of common ground between you and individuals in your network can help establish and then strengthen these relationships.
“Follow up with the people who helped you, not only to say thank you, but also to show them the impact of their generosity.”
It’s a bit of a daunting list, but if any of the above are particular areas of weakness for you, and you place any personal or professional value on your network of relationships (you should), start making a concerted effort to improve—even if it’s just a little bit every day. Set a reminder to email that college friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Send a thank you note to the last person who helped you out, even if it was in something small. Eventually, these actions will become habit, and a natural part of how you nurture your relationships. Trust us, your network will notice.