Six important realities about trust, from The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything by Stephen M.R. Covey
As you work on behaving in ways that build trust, one helpful way to visualize and quantify your efforts is by thinking in terms of “Trust Accounts.” These are similar to the “Emotional Bank Accounts” my father introduced in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. By behaving in the ways that build trust, you make deposits. By behaving in ways that destroy trust, you make withdrawals. The “balance” in the account reflects the amount of trust in the relationship at any given time.
One of the greatest benefits of the Trust Account metaphor is that it gives you a language to talk about trust. It’s also valuable because it helps you become aware of several important realities:
Each Trust Account is unique. There is a great deal of difference in the account I have with my three-year-old daughter and the one that I have with my nineteen-year-old son. While my three-year-old trusts me implicitly, my nineteen-year-old constantly reminds me of the words of Mark Twain: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at home much the old man had learned in seven years!” Recognizing uniqueness can help you build each account more effectively.
All deposits and withdrawals are not created equal. Often the little things can be disproportionately large. When Hurricane Katrina hit the southeastern coast of the U.S., one of my associates sent a brief e-mail of concern to a client who had to evacuate her island home. He said that he hoped she was doing well, that she was in his prayers, and that he would talk to her when she was able to return. She later said, “That was the only e-mail I got that expressed concern from anyone outside of my family, and it meant a lot to me. Thank you.” On the other hand, little things such as forgetting a family member’s birthday (or worse, your own wedding anniversary!) not saying “thank you,” or failing to attend to other small courtesies customs can create huge withdrawals, particularly with some people, or with most people in some cultures and around the world.
What constitutes as a “deposit” to one person may not to another. I may think it’s a deposit to take you and your partner out to dinner. But to you, it may be a withdrawal. Maybe you don’t like to eat out with business associates, or you’re on a diet, or you really want to spend the evening at home, but you feel obligated because you don’t want to offend me. Or I may think it’s a deposit to publicly acknowledge you for something positive you did. But to you, it may be a withdrawal — even a huge withdrawal — because you wanted your deed to remain anonymous. Always remember: It’s important to know what constitutes a deposit to a person when you’re trying to build trust.
Withdrawals are typically larger than deposits. As Warren Buffet has said, “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” In general, withdrawals can have 10, 20, or even 100 times more impact than deposits, but there are some withdrawals that are so significant that they completely wipe out the account in one stroke. I once heard the analogy that trust is like a big bucket that gets filled with water (making deposits) one drop at a time, and some withdrawals (the massive ones) are like “kicking the bucket” — in some other words, because of a single action, you simply don’t have anything left. The important thing to remember here is that it’s not smart to kick the bucket! You’re going to make mistakes — everybody does — but try not to make the ones that completely destroy trust, and work hard to build trust and restore whatever trust has been lost.
Sometimes the fastest way to build trust is to stop making withdrawals. When I assumed the challenge of turning the Covey Leadership Center around, we had five different businesses, four of which were profitable. The fifth was losing money, taking 20 percent of my time and providing only 2 percent of our revenue. Although this business had been popular with some of the company’s leaders, I recognized that the quickest way to improve the overall profit was not to focus on improving the other four, but to eliminate the fifth. So we sold it, and it made a huge difference in turning the center around and restoring the trust of bankers and others who were involved. As this experience affirms, to raise the level of performance (or, in this case, trust) you not only need to strengthen the driving forces, you also need to remove the restraining forces. If you don’t, it’s like trying to drive a car with one foot on the gas pedal and the other foot on the break. Sometimes the fastest way to achieve results is simply to take your foot off the break.
Recognize that each relationship has two trust accounts. The way to perceive the amount of trust in a relationship and the way the other person perceives it may be different. So it’s generally wise to think of any relationship in terms of two accounts — not one — and to try to be aware of the balance in each account. I’ve often thought it would be helpful if we could see “signal bars” over people’s heads (like in those Cingular cell phone commercials showing the bars going up and down to reflect the varying cell phone reception). Instead of cell phone reception, these bars would show the effect of every interaction — whether it made a deposit or a withdrawal, and the resulting balance. But without such graphic help, it’s best to make a sincere effort to understand what makes a deposit or withdrawal to another person and always try to act in ways that build that trust.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephen M. R. Covey is cofounder and CEO of CoveyLink Worldwide. A sought-after and compelling keynote speaker, author, and advisor on trust, leadership, ethics, and high performance, Covey speaks to audiences around the world. A Harvard MBA, he is the former CEO of Covey Leadership Center, which under his stewardship became the largest leadership development company in the world. Covey resides with his wife and children in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains. His book The SPEED of Trust (Copyright © 2006 by Covey Link, LLC) is about how trust — and the speed at which it is established with clients and, employees — is essential to a successful organization.
MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHOR
- Read Chapter One of The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything
- See the book’s Table of Contents
- Browse more books by the author