Trust is like rubber cement.
This may seem like a weird analogy, but for anyone who has ever used rubber cement, you know how valuable it is. Elementary teachers sing the praises of rubber cement, but for those growing up in the digital age and not familiar with it, here is how it works.
Rubber cement comes in a bottle with a brush applicator connected to the lid. You brush the sticky liquid on each piece of whatever you want to join together. Let the cement dry for several seconds, then press the pieces together to create a powerful bond. Each side depends on the other for cohesion and lasting strength—like marriage.
Mutual trust means believing you will stick together. You rely on one another to be honest and take responsibility for what needs to be done, whether around the house, with the kids, how you spend money or how you spend your time.
Trust is knowing that you have each other’s backs. The challenge in business and in marriage is how to build trust and maintain it through market and life cycles. When you build trust, it resonates through your everyday actions.
Build trust by honoring agreements
Consider a game theory known as “The Prisoner’s Dilemma.” Two people are arrested and accused of committing a crime together. They are taken into custody and transported to the local precinct where they are isolated in separate rooms and questioned. Each alleged criminal is offered a deal.
The first one to implicate his partner will be looked upon favorably by the prosecutor. This is the classic test of loyalty and trust, and while this particular dilemma may seem an extreme example when used in the same breath as marriage, it begs the question, when the chips are down, can we trust our true loves to be there for us?
The prisoner’s dilemma is played out in far more subtle ways in our everyday family experiences.
A young couple owns a Golden Labrador named Hulk who likes to beg for scraps of food at the dinner table. The couple agreed it isn’t a good idea to feed their cherished pet anything but the special dog food brand prescribed by their veterinarian, but it is amazing how a lovable mutt with begging eyes can make us violate a trust.
When one partner gets up from the table and temporarily turns their back, the other partner slips Hulk some table scraps. Of course, Hulk is still chomping away when the first partner turns around and catches him in the act.
“Did you feed Hulk from the table?” Both parties know the answer, but one feels the need to notice the infraction. In Hulk’s case, the guilty partner is defenseless. “I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist. He looked so pitiful I felt bad holding back when we are just going to throw the scraps out.” When partners agree to do something and then one partner breaches the agreement, they are chipping away bits of trust.
It doesn’t matter if you are prisoners being offered a deal or a married couple who agreed on how to feed your dog, a promise is a promise.
If you agree to stick to a plan, you must follow through. It doesn’t matter if you are vowing not to spend money on new clothes, not to buy a daily Starbucks® or to set limits on your child's video game or sugar habit, you must honor your bonds. When you tell your customers they can count on you, come through.
Keeping promises is also essential in business.
When a company prints a label of contents on a package, they make the customer a promise. If it turns out that a carton of milk is tainted or a toy is decorated with lead paint or eggs are contaminated with salmonella, we lose trust in those providers and even become suspicious of all manufacturing. We even mistrust the system of government rules and regulations that are meant to protect us from shady business practices.
When a company announces they will pay a dividend on their stock this quarter, we rely on that promise to decide if we want to become shareholders. If management suddenly decides to discontinue dividends, we lose trust in the company’s ability to forecast revenues.
Our actions alone prove whether we are reliable.
When we promise to take time off from work to attend our child’s soccer game or school play, and then say we are too busy, our partner and our child lose trust regardless of the circumstances. Our family begins to wonder if they can trust any of our promises. How do they know when to trust? In the Old West, people were proud of saying that a man’s word was his bond, implying that he could be trusted to do what he said.
Stockbrokers warn investors that past performance is no guarantee of future performance. However, it is human nature to believe how someone acted in the past is a good predictor of their future behavior. This is why the routine we experience after settling into family life is often a surprise. We acted so differently with each other when we were dating.Get in the habit of building trust by keeping your promises.
When you promise something, be sure you can deliver. Be generous, but think before you commit. If you feel pressured to make a promise but aren’t certain you can deliver, explain why you don’t feel comfortable about making the promise. Don’t promise something, even reluctantly, then not follow through.