Monday, July 13, 2009

CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: It's a Question of Trust

This article originally appeared in The National Networker

It wasn’t what he expected to hear, that’s for sure!

I was half way through a 1-2-1 with a new networking connection when I surprised him.

“I don’t trust you”, I said.

The expression on his face was, to say the least, interesting. The meeting had gone well, we had shared a lot of views in common, he had shared some of his marketing processes with me and we had some contacts in common. The conversation had just turned to relationship building in networking and the importance of not selling at networking events, instead focusing on developing rapport and, most importantly, trust with fellow members.

“This is where so many people get it wrong”, I went on to explain. “When someone says they don’t trust us, we take it as a sign of distrust. We paint everything in black and white. We either trust someone or we distrust them. But that’s not the way things really work.

“In fact, we all start out either at, or close to, trust neutral. When we first meet someone we don’t have strong enough grounds to any strong feelings of trust either way. Trust is based on evidence; we need to have grounds to decide whether or not we can put our faith in someone. “

Of course, there are instant factors that mean that we may not necessarily start out at exactly neutral. The all important first-impressions certainly have an impact, get it right and people will want to trust you, get it wrong and you will have a lot more work to do to win that trust.

Similarly, a shared background, shared friends or having heard good things about people will give a strong platform from which to build trust. You still, however, have to prove those initial impressions correct.

This concept of trust is key to networking effectively in many ways. There are still far too many people who go to events and expect trust instantly, without earning it. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who can’t see the point of networking with strangers and who won’t open their networks to them.

You have to find a balance. Don’t wade in to networking events and just expect people to buy from you or connect you because you are there. Trust has to be earned.

I went to a networking event a few years ago where part of the evening was a short ‘Speed Networking’ session. We were all told to move along the line and take it in turns to introduce ourselves and then ask the other person “How can I help you?” Naturally, it felt completely odd. Asking complete strangers how you can help them is a false position. It’s rarely genuine. That question does not occur that early in a relationship; you need to want to help people, and the more you trust them the more likely you are to want to help.

On the other hand, if networking is to work, there needs to be a willingness to trust earlier than you would normally. Networking groups bring people together to provide focused support, whether in terms of sharing contacts, ideas, expertise or experiences. In normal circumstances, what you share in a networking group is reserved for people you know very well. But networks can’t work effectively if no one gives to the process without some degree of implied trust.

For me, a classic example is people who join LinkedIn and then proceed to hide their network from the people they connect with. The whole purpose of LinkedIn is to share connections. If you have issues with implied trust, only connect to people you do trust. But be ready to share with them. Without that you are limiting the network’s effectiveness.

In May I attended NRG Metropolitan, a monthly networking group, for the first time. I already knew some of the people in the group and the organizers, which gave me a good start in terms of winning the trust of people there. I walked out of the meeting with three very promising meetings in the diary and congratulating myself on a job well done.

Initially I had just gone to the group to take a client who might find it useful to join and to see if I could recommend it. The three meetings were a bonus. Then I stopped to think.

I looked at the chemistry between the members there, which was clearly very strong. I recognised that the group was packed with strong networkers, who understood the value of helping each other. And I could see clearly that there was a high level of trust between the members.

It became clear to me that this group offered more if I committed to regular attendance. I also recognised that I would need to win the trust of the members there if I could achieve that potential, and it would need that commitment. I decided to join and attend regularly.

In June I went for the second time. Offered the opportunity to give a two minute presentation on my business, I told rather than sold, sharing some information about what I do without asking for anything in return. Between the meetings I had 1-2-1s with two of the members and arranged two more for the next month.

The aim is to build trust over time. I don’t go into the group expecting business or referrals straight away, but recognise that the potential in that group is huge if I commit and earn that trust.

It’s not that the group distrusts me, but I’m pretty sure that they don’t trust me. Not just yet anyway.

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