Building more trustful teams in four steps

Author and former FBI agent Robin Dreeke explains how leaders can cultivate trust effectively.
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Robin Dreeke's The Code of Trust is a helpful guide to developing trustful relationships, and it's particularly useful to people working in open organizations (where trust is fundamental to any kind of work). As its title implies, Dreeke's book presents a "code" or set of principles people can follow when attempting to establish trust. I explained those in the first installment of this review. In this article, then, I'll outline what Dreeke (a former FBI agent) calls "The Four Steps to Inspiring Trust"—a set of practices for enacting the principles. In other words, the Steps make the Code work in the real world.

The Four Steps

1. Align your goals

First, determine your primary goal—what you want to achieve and what sacrifices you are willing to make to achieve those goals. Learn the goals of others. Look for ways to align your goals with their goals, to make parts of their goals a part of yours. "You'll achieve the power that only combined forces can attain," Dreeke writes. For example, in the sales manager seminar I once ran regularly, I mentioned that if a sales manager helps a salesman reach his sales goals, the manager will reach his goals automatically. Also, if a salesman helps his customer reach his goals, the salesman will reach his goals automatically. This is aligning goals. (For more on this, see an earlier article I wrote about how companies can determine when to compete and when to cooperate).

This couldn't be more true in open organizations, which depend on both internal and external contributors a great deal. What are those contributors' goals? Everyone must understand these if an open organization is going to be successful.

When aligning goals, try to avoid having strong opinions on the topic at hand. This leads to inflexibility, Dreeke says, and reduces the chance of generating options that align with other people's goals. To find their goals, consider what their fears or concerns are. Then try to help them overcome those fears or concerns.

If you can't get them to align with your goals, then you should choose to not align with them and instead remove them from the team. Dreeke recommends doing this in a way that allows you to stay approachable for other projects. In one issue, goals might not be aligned; in other issues, they may.

Dreeke also notes that many people believe being successful means carefully narrowing your focus to your own goals. "But that's one of those lazy shortcuts that slow you down," Dreeke writes. Success, Dreeke says, arrives faster when you inspire others to merge their goals with yours, then forge ahead together. In that respect, if you place heavy attention on other people and their goals while doing the same with yours, success in opening someone up comes far sooner. This all sounds very much like advice for activating transparency, inclusivity, and collaboration—key open organization principles.

2. Apply the power of context

Dreeke recommends really getting to know your partners, discovering "their desires, beliefs, personality traits, behaviors, and demographic characteristics." Those are key influences that define their context.

To achieve trust, you must find a plan that achieves their goals along with yours.

People only trust those who know them (including these beliefs, goals, and personalities). Once known, you can match their goals with yours. To achieve trust, you must find a plan that achieves their goals along with yours (see above). If you try to push your goals on them, they'll become defensive and information exchange will shut down. If that happens, no good ideas will materialize.

3. Craft your encounter

When you meet with potential allies, plan the meeting meticulously—especially the first meeting. Create the perfect environment for it. Know in advance: 1. the proper atmosphere and mood required, 2. the special nature of the occasion, 3. the perfect time and location, 4. your opening remark, and 5. your plan of what to offer the other person (and what to ask for at that time). Creating the best possible environment for every interaction sets the stage for success.

Dreeke explains the difference between times for planning and thinking and times for simply performing (like when you meet a stranger for the first time). If you are not well prepared, the fear and emotions of the moment could be overwhelming. To reduce that emotion, planning, preparing and role playing can be very helpful.

Later in the book, Dreeke discusses "toxic situations," suggesting you should not ignore toxic situations, as they'll more than likely get worse if you do. People could become emotional and say irrational things. You must address the toxic situation by helping people stay rational. Then try to laser in on interactions between your goals and theirs. What does the person want to achieve? Suspending your ego gives you "the freedom to laser-in" on others' points of view and places where their goals can lead to joint ultimate goals, Dreeke says. Stay focused on their context, not your ego, in toxic situations.

Some leaders think it is best to strongly confront toxic people, maybe embarrassing them in front of others. That might feel good at the time, but "kicking ass in a crowd" just builds people's defenses, Dreeke says. To build a productive plan, he says, you need "shields down," so information will be shared.

Show others you speak their language—not only for understanding, but also to demonstrate reason, respect, and consideration.

"Trust leaders take no interest in their own power," Dreeke argues, as they are deeply interested and invested in others. By helping others, their trust develops. For toxic people, the opposite is true: They want power. Unfortunately, this desire for power just espouses more fear and distrust. Dreeke says that to combat a toxic environment, trust leaders do not "fight fire with fire" which spreads the toxicity. They "fight fire with water" to reduce it. In movies, fights are exciting; in real life they are counterproductive.

4. Connect

Finally, show others you speak their language—not only for understanding, but also to demonstrate reason, respect, and consideration. Speak about what they want to hear (namely, issues that focus on them and their needs). The speed of trust is directly opposed to the speed of speech, Dreeke says. People who speak slowly and carefully build trust faster than people who rush their speaking.

Importantly, Dreeke also covers a way to get people to like you. It doesn't involve directly getting people to like you personally; it involves getting people to like themselves. Show more respect for them than they might even feel about themselves. Praise them for qualities about themselves that they hadn't thought about. That will open the doors to a trusting relationship.

Putting it together

I've spent my entire career attempting to build trust globally, throughout the business communities in which I've worked. I have no experience in the intelligence community, but I do see great similarities in spite of the different working environment. The book has given me new insights I never considered (like the section on "crafting your encounter," for example). I recommend people pick up the book and read it thoroughly, as there is other helpful advice in it that I couldn't cover in this short article.

As I mentioned in Part 1, following Dreeke's Code of Trust can lead to building strong trust networks or communities. Those trust communities are exactly what we are trying to create in open organizations.

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Ron McFarland has been working in Japan for over 40 years, and he's spent more than 30 of them in international sales, sales management training, and expanding sales worldwide. He's worked in or been to more than 80 countries.

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