Building Trust in a Socially Distanced World

Trust is key in virtually all our interactions, whether business or personal. No matter how successful a relationship, trust must always be built, tracked, and maintained.

Fundamentally, trust is built one person at a time, on an individual level of self-awareness. Social distancing and our new work-from-home culture pose challenges when it comes to building trust, especially in new relationships.

This newfound distancing we all find ourselves in also presents larger and quicker opportunities to erode trust, which affects the social capital and resources needed to operate in a healthy and productive relationship. 

Working from home strongly reduces social interactions, leaving impersonal touch points like email, phone and Zoom meetings as our only forms of communication. When a company is unable to keep constant contact and build trust between its employees, it becomes a personal responsibility to follow corporate values.

Steady Situational Unconscious Conscious diagram

In fact, trust is formed on three levels of psychological activity:

  1. Impulse – a situational unconscious reaction.
    Trust built on impulse is very unstable; it is quickly and easily established, but without a solid foundation. For example, consider a massive sale where you buy a cheap pair of shoes, only to later question what was so special about them and probably never visit that shop again.
  2. Experience (or objectification) – a situational conscious reaction.
    This trust is built as a result of a certain experience from the main level of interaction between a customer and a company. This is when a customer placed an order, had a pleasant experience with the staff or company and received a product within the expected timeframe. Based on this positive experience the buyer decides to order from that company again.
  3. Will – a steady conscious reaction.
    The third level is a social formation of personality when trust is a decision based on a lifestyle concept. Some customers are more likely to be loyal and others to be more suspicious because of their nature and personality – meaning people need differentiating amounts of effort to form relationships full of trust.

When building a strategy to improve the level of trust between a business owner and an employee, a merchant or a customer, one has to consider all 3 levels. Interaction on only 1 level can lead to unstable results. 

It should be taken into account that all decisions are built on personal experience and external factors at a certain moment of time. In other words, every person has a different level of openness based on their feelings of:

  • Calmness
  • Safety
  • Certainty.

It goes without saying that during the pandemic, levels of these basic feelings have significantly diminished. This makes building trust even more difficult.

In the current unstable climate, rapid and honest information sharing is crucial for maintaining corporate or brand trust. Every point that is communicated but not clarified may be misconstrued by someone, often negatively. It is important that all pain points in a relationship are brought to light.

To effectively build trust, the Birmingham Business School recommends demonstrating all the following characteristics

  • Professional competence – by diving deep into the details and avoiding misinformation.
  • Benevolence – by evidently showing compassion and concern for the wellbeing of others.
  • Integrity – by acting honestly and ethically, demonstrating a willingness to listen, discuss and address critiques and concerns.

Ideal leader components:

Ideal leader components

In attempts to please, we often hide unpleasant details, resorting to small lies or lies of omission. However, this can lead to a lack of integrity and damage the foundation of the relationship. It takes courage to be honest, not shying away from confrontation and addressing any criticisms that may arise. As a reward, prioritizing truth over false harmony helps to forge stronger bonds and increase the chances of organizational survival and prosperity through potential crises.

To demonstrate authentic results in building trust, one must be honest, take concrete actions but also meet expectations. 

Expectation graph

For example, there is an unspoken expectation that a company will cater to a customer’s emotional state during the quarantine period by providing extra attention to their health. The company Wyze, which is a manufacturer of security cameras and smart home devices, showed a deep understanding of their customers, releasing thermometers and masks during the beginning of the pandemic and also donating cameras to small businesses in the US. They found and fulfilled a need before anyone placed a request. 

In broader terms, leaders should take the initiative in trust-building, navigating through all four stages to achieve results:

4 stages to get results

In summary, a person and a group must maintain a heightened level of self-awareness when it comes to forming and sustaining trusted relationships. Investing in the cultivation of trust pays off long-term in the form of individual and group success and everyone’s overall prosperity.

I hope this article helps you better understand the science behind this complex topic and helps you identify potential risks or weak points in your strategy when it comes to building trusted relationships. There is so much to learn and be mindful of around this topic.

For more on building new, trusted business relationships with consumers, check out Sachin Pandey’s blog on the topic of building consumer trust in eCommerce and Magento, an Adobe company’s customer DHL.