“Trust takes years to build and only five minutes to destroy.”

“Trust takes years to build, a second to break, and forever to repair.”

When you hear any variation of these statements—especially when they’re attributed to people like Warren Buffett—you probably accept it. It makes intuitive sense if you’re a CPA, lawyer or any other professional service provider. Our minds have a way of conjuring examples that affirm the wisdom behind these statements:

  • One: a very trusting relationship with someone whom you’ve known for a long time.
  • Two: someone who betrayed a position of trust in an especially awful way—either a public figure or someone from your own life.

Examples seemingly affirming this commonly-accepted wisdom about trust abound, but there’s a problem:

It’s B.S.! Our intuitive judgment is, in this case, wrong.

Faulty premises

The above statements contain two premises: (1) That trust takes a long time to build, and (2) That trust is as delicate as the stem of a wine glass, even in the context of a long-term relationship. These are false, and potentially harmful to business.

Charles H. Green, founder and CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates, a management consultancy, has written and spoken extensively about trust in business relationships. He’s exposed the fallacy of this myth in his blog as well as in The Trusted Advisor— a compelling and useful book that he coauthored. Here’s our two cents on the matter.

At Lockhart, we help CPAs and other financial professionals retain high-value clients by elevating their image so people will perceive their true value as trusted advisors.

Call us today at (800) 966-2709 to get started.

I. Wrong premise I of II: Trust takes a long time to build. Many of us recognize that trust can develop quickly in extreme circumstances where lives are at stake. But trust can also develop under mundane circumstances in little time.

You can’t become a trusted advisor in a day, but you can quickly lay a foundation of trust.

You can’t become a trusted advisor in a day, but you can quickly lay a foundation of trust.

Has there ever been a time when you bought something from a vendor — say, at a farmer’s market — and walked away without the product? Or when you accidentally overpaid for something? Of course! And when that vendor treats you with courtesy by returning the balance, or allowing you at your word to collect what you said you paid for, that has a strong impact on how you view him or her.

When someone deals graciously and trustingly with you, it demonstrates not only trust but trustworthiness. (Also, it just makes you feel good.)

“The early benefits of beginning to earn trust are substantial and can be obtained quickly. The ability to earn trust is a learnable skill.” – The Trusted Advisor, p. 5

A single, exceptional customer service experience, a moving customer story, an enthusiastic and authentic support staff, a free CE webinar that helps you understand a new financial regulation—these aren’t life-altering. Yet one-off “events” like these can have a strong impact on trust. More dramatically and more obviously, a complete stranger can earn your trust by standing up to a bully or running into traffic to shove a kid out of the way of a moving van.

Broadly speaking, trust is neither delicate nor necessarily a function of time.

II. Wrong premise II of II: Trust is delicate. Consider the idea that the kind of trust built up over years remains delicate. Let’s start with a mundane example. You catch your spouse or partner griping about your mom (who is perfect, of course!) in a text message to a friend. Does that undermine trust? Sure—but how much? In a healthy, long-term relationship, it’s probably not a death knell.

What if you find out your spouse has vented about you to a friend because you — like all people — are sometimes an exasperating person to live with? Your feelings might be hurt, but you’re not going to yank out your hair and call a divorce attorney in a fit of despair.

In the long run, for trust to be maintained it must also be deserved.

On one hand, there’s an ideal, and sometimes expectation, of ironclad integrity and loyalty. To be clear, we should absolutely conduct ourselves with integrity. But people recognize that we’re all human. We have complex feelings and motives, and with that complexity comes certain frailties. In the words of Colorado singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov, “If it weren’t for second chances, we’d all be alone.”

Any relationship that’s actually viable can survive periodic, minor lapses in confidence. Trust will collapse or hold firm under duress, based less on the violation as the strength of the relationship. What happens when a clumsy, 80-pound dog barrels smack into the leg of a dining room table? It depends on the table.

Trust can be nimble, sluggish, sturdy or frail.

There’s a mountain of difference between overcharging someone because of a clerical error on an invoice and overcharging someone deliberately because you think you can get away with it. How someone at a client’s accounts payable department interprets an overage depends on how much he trusts you. That reaffirms the importance of character. And to be sure, there’s very little wiggle room in the legal and accounting industries. We’re neither excusing nor downplaying dishonesty in personal orprofessional matters.

In the long run, for trust to be maintained it must also be deserved.

But because trustis so important to us, misconceptions about trust also bother us. Trust canbe built up over years and destroyed in a single act of betrayal, but it can alsobe built quickly and endure periodic (innocent) screw-ups. It depends on a lot of variables.

  • It depends on the intent, if any, behind lapses.
  • It depends on their depth.
  • It depends on the quality of the relationship.

If you’re going to be hard on people, do it because they deserve it. Don’t throw away a relationship because of a cliché.

Trust isn’t a house of cards.

A strong image can build trust almost as quickly as personal referrals.

Communication in business is all about trust. Because most people likely first encounter you through some proxy—your website, a social media account, a company profile or a proposal—dimensions of trust like dependability that do take time are obviously hard to establish right off.

Yet trust can be built quickly. Things like helpfulness, empathy, earnestness, clarity, vulnerability, and above all, a respect for the intelligence of your audience, are effective ways to establish trust in short order.

The implications for your marketing are important: The way you present yourself matters, among other reasons, because strangers often use your branded materials to assess how trustworthy you are. And depending on the situation they may do so with a high degree of conviction.

At Lockhart, we help CPAs and financial professionals retain high-value clients, win new ones, and enjoy healthy margins by elevating their image so people perceive their true value as a trusted advisor.

Call (800) 966-2709 today or order a free sample package.

See also:

Charles H. Green, “The Biggest Trust Myth of All Time,”Trusted Advisor blog, 29 May 2017

Does Trust Really Take Time?Trusted Advisor blog

Barbara Brooks Kimmel, “The Quote that Does Trust a Disservice,”LinkedIn Pulse, 24 Nov 2014