The 3 Components of Building and Maintaining Trust

Posted September 27, 2019

Once a month, our staff hosts a "Guild Gathering" to explore a timely topic. Read on to discover what was on our minds this month...

Empathy, logic, and authenticity.

According to Frances Frei, a Harvard Business School professor and former SVP of Leadership and Strategy at Uber, these are the building-blocks of trust. In her TED Talk, Frances hones in on these three attributes and outlines the critical role each plays in building, maintaining, and rebuilding trust. Recently, our staff came together to reflect on Frances’ speech and share our tips on how to create trust – both between each other and with our clients.


Frei argues that empathy is often the ‘shakiest’ of trust components because “people just don’t believe that we’re mostly in it for them…they believe that we’re too self-distracted.” It’s hard, after all, to be empathetic and grant others our full attention when we’re constantly multi-tasking – answering emails during a meeting, checking our calendars during a phone call, mentally reviewing our presentation notes while out to lunch with coworkers. Fortunately, as soon as we can identify to whom and what we’re most likely to ‘offer our distraction,’ the sooner we can rectify the situation.

So, how exactly do we do that? Our staff had a number of tips – from closing your eyes during a phone call to pay close attention to what the person on the other line is saying to minimizing distractions in your workspace (by silencing your phone, temporarily disconnecting from Wi-fi, etc.). We discussed the importance of adopting a ‘customer service’ approach, both with our clients and with colleagues seeking input/help. And even if the distractions are too pressing and you can’t help right away, it’s important to acknowledge the other person’s request and assure them you will be in touch as soon as you can. In these ways, we allow empathy to foster.


Frei says there are two reasons we may be perceived as illogical (and thus, untrustworthy): because our information itself isn’t sound or because we’re not communicating it effectively. She can’t help with the former, but she does have advice for the latter. When communicating your logic, start with your point and then explain your reasoning, as opposed to the other way around. This way, your coworkers or client understand immediately what your argument is, and even if you get interrupted while explaining your reasoning, you’ll have already made your point!

Of course, this can feel easier said than done – it can be scary to make a declarative statement without yet explaining your reasoning. However, our clients are often most eager to hear our recommendations first. Our staff also discussed the importance of not just starting with the point, but starting with the point that the other person will be most interested in. This shows them that you understand where they’re coming from and you want to provide the info they believe is the most critical (even if it differs from your own priorities) – essentially, it’s a way to display logic and empathy at the same time!


The final component of trust is authenticity, which according to Frei, is often the most difficult to achieve. Being authentic, especially when surrounded by people who do not look or think like you, can feel risky. But not being authentic can damage trust in a significant way. Frei offered encouraging advice: “Pay less attention to what you think people want to hear from you and far more attention to what your authentic awesome self needs to say.”

We often find that the trust between us and our clients is at its best when they feel we’re being truly authentic – in the advice we give and progress we report. Working with different clients and coworkers may require us to be adaptive in our styles, but at the core of it, we have to be authentic to be effective.


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