As I pointed out in the previous article about evaluating intercultural mistrust, we have double standards with regards to trust. We expect others to trust us automatically, even when we are not willing to trust others automatically ourselves. When stated so directly, you can see how unrealistic an expectation that is. In this article I will show you how to participate more actively in the process of helping others to make the decision to trust you. How can you use the three criteria you learned about in the previous article to inspire intercultural trust?
Step 4 of my five-step CLEAR method addresses how to build your professional identity, including how to inspire trust. The two are linked, because you cannot avoid building an identity. Thanks to everything you say and do on a daily basis, your colleagues are forming opinions about your professionalism all the time. They are also evaluating whether or not they can trust you. This all happens by reflex and is something that all cultures share in common.
Perhaps you rarely think about it; however, it constantly affects you. For example, you can feel disappointed if you hear that someone perceives you in a way that does not match how you perceive yourself. On the other hand, you can feel pleased when someone expresses an opinion of you that reflects what you like about yourself. And in the domain of trust, how upset would you be if someone told you bluntly that they do not trust you? But why should they? What are you doing to earn their trust?
Do Actions Speak Louder than Words to Inspire Intercultural Trust?
Some people believe that actions speak louder than words. By that they mean that what you do is more important than what you say. That is not the case when working across cultures. I maintain that when cultures interact, words are our most effective tool. As I have said in an earlier article, we cannot rely on body language and vocal tonality within intercultural contexts to inspire trust, the way we do in our own cultures. We may also be in work situations where we have only occasional contact with colleagues or clients from other cultures, so we never actually see them in action.
Due to all these realities of working across cultures, we have to explicitly say things that we are not in the habit of saying in our own cultures. The three criteria you saw in the previous article — sincerity, competence and reliability — can work as well for inspiring trust as they do for evaluating mistrust.
For example, you can preface what you say with phrases such as, “I am sincere when I say” or “I am competent at” or “I am always reliable at.” Alternatively, if you prefer you can say “What others have said about my sincerity is” or “What others have said about my competence is” or “What others have said about my reliability is.” In either case you can also provide evidence, such as facts or anecdotes, for each of the three criteria of sincerity, competence and reliability, on which others can base their decisions.
Some of my clients find speaking so directly about themselves in this way is uncomfortable at first. They are concerned that they will be perceived as praising themselves excessively. In some cultures, such praise is not well regarded. However, what they soon discover is that egotistical self-praise is not what I am suggesting.
Other clients believe that what they say about themselves carries little weight. That belief does not surprise me, because in our own language and culture we take what we say and how we say it for granted. In other words, we do not even notice how we speak or listen. We are unaware of how we are building our identities in words, as much as in actions. We do not examine how we grant and withhold trust. All these things take place without a need for self-awareness. But even in our own language and culture, the flow of words between us is constantly influencing our opinions of each other and strengthening or weakening trust.
Intercultural business contexts force us to be more self-aware and to rely on words more than ever. Just to be clear, I am not claiming that saying something once will guarantee that others will trust you. However, I highly recommend that you practice articulating your sincerity, competence and reliability until it becomes a habit. You can regularly include such statements about yourself at meetings, conferences and even in emails or beginnings of reports you write. By consistently doing that you will be actively participating in inspiring others who do not know you well enough to trust you. If you don’t accept the responsibility to inspire intercultural trust, who will?
The next article in this five-part series on trust is about promises — the most powerful exchange of words there is — and why it is imperative to always honor your own promises.