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William is an Assistant Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in the Department of Business Administration and Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is fascinated by research around how individuals construct and create their social realities, intrigued with the powers of creativity and innovation, and an avid proponent of outstanding service experiences. When not teaching, writing, or researching, he tries to spend time with his family and occasionally paint. He is currently completing his PhD in Management at Saint Mary’s University.

Monday, March 14, 2011

It’s a Matter of Trust

We have a new member of the household. Her name is Luna, a kitten about 1 year old. She’s been a part of the family now for a couple of months, figuring out the dynamics and finding all of the good spots to hide. Hiding spots are good when there are two young, very active boys always in search of the cat ‘to play’ with. Understandably, Luna has taken more to my wife and I; we tend to leave her space and live at her own pace.P1060126

Recently, Luna has built up enough trust to nest on my shoulders. She’ll relax in a perfectly balanced position as I go about my normal routines working on the computer, making coffee and wandering from room to room. Gentle, consistent movements that she can predict and few expectations that she’ll stay; she’s up when she wants and gets off when she feels it’s time to depart.

Of course, my sons see this and continually ask why Luna won’t ride on their shoulders. I’ve caught them more than a few times heaving her up on their backs with instructions like “Sit down Luna”; often these commands come with a vice-like grip, holding her in place momentarily. Yesterday, that resulted in someone getting a nice scratch down one arm (taken without complaint, but with the comment “Luna, that wasn’t very nice." as the cat ran away).

They’re confused as to why I can successfully get her to ride on my shoulders while they can’t. They’re confused when I tell them that I don’t put her there; she comes on her own. She wants to be close and cuddle, but on her terms, not mine.

Many of our relationships are like this, especially in the service industry. When we can find it, we always prefer to do business with people that we trust. When I eat out, I want to trust that my server is really listening to me. In a hotel, I want to trust that my room assignment meets my needs. The sweet lady at the coffee counter on campus knows that I like a large, single cream with two cups because I'll be walking across campus.

Trust takes time to build, a commitment to slow, incremental steps of consistent behaviour that create a comfortable, predictable environment. Safe, but not in the boring fashion – rather the safety that comes from knowing someone has your best interests in mind and is looking out for you.

Building up a trusting relationship takes time and intention. There are no shortcuts. It cannot be transferred from someone else. And trust, just like your reputation, can be quickly damaged. When building a trusting relationship, consider:
  1. Moving slowly – jumping into action, demonstrating too much intensity, or jumping to the end of the interaction (such as trying to close way too soon!) will not build a foundation of trust. It’s not about you – it’s about building trust
  2. Being fluid – be aware of changes happening, whether it’s with the people you are dealing with or the context you are working within. Cookie cutter responses used in changing, fluid situations do not demonstrate authenticity. Remember that it’s not about you – it’s about building trust.
  3. Showing patience – sometimes relationships make progress, while other times they slide backwards. Invest time being with people, talking to them and demonstrating that you will be consistent in how you deal with them. (It’s not about you – it’s about building trust.)
  4. Investing time – trust comes from establishing a historical base of actions that meet or go beyond our expectations. Sure, an initial WOW moment is great for getting attention. But remember that flames make a fire pretty, while the coals are what gives it real heat. Coals take time to develop and are much tougher to extinguish. It's not about you - I think you've heard this before.
Somehow, we forget that our business relationships are just that – relationships. The pressures of the quick sale, of increasing today's business levels, of upselling and cold calling have shifted our focus away from the basic building blocks of human interactions. Building trust is one of those blocks.

These are tough concepts for my boys right now. They are hardly fluid, rarely move slowly, and patience is measured in seconds around here.

Luckily, Luna knows some pretty good hiding spots.


  1. A power statement Bill - and one that comes timely for both my real estate and apparel businesses as I forge ahead to rebuild both after difficult market conditions. Thanks! -Roy

  2. Very well done, sir!

  3. Elizabeth HendersonMarch 14, 2011 at 10:04 AM

    I consider myself priveledged to have had the opportunity to be taught by someone so knowledgeable in the service industry. It's been eight years since I was your student at NBCC St Adrews - submitting reports, preparing presentations and being thankful for your ever-entertaining stories of your own successes & failures in the Industry that always distracted me from the discomfort of the awful classroom chairs and buzzing neon light fixtures that for some reason were most annoying at 8:30 in the morning, Lttle did I know that eight years later I'd be searching the corners of my brain for all the things I learned in your classroom to start my very own retail business in a small tourist town. It's taken a few years but now I can TRULY say thankyou for preparing me to take on the world of business management with integrity and exceptional service.

    Next I must say THANK YOU for the continued opportunity to learn from you through this blog...it's certainly been timely as I need all the help I can get only being in our fourth month of business. I can only hope that as your former student this business will become something that makes you proud. :) Thanks Bill.


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