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Trust: What do we know about it? How can we build it? (2/2)

  • September 2018

The solution: How to build trust

As we have seen, trust is a complex phenomenon, and the decision to trust is influenced by many factors, some of which cannot be directly influenced. So we will focus instead on those factors that can be influenced, namely our intentions and behaviors.

At Egon Zehnder, we have developed our own trust model to help our clients build more trust – and to help us in building trusted partnerships with our clients. The model rests on two main pillars: insights from science and feedback from our clients.

Our model consists of four elements: Competence, Consistency, Courage, and Care (CCCC).


People come across as competent when they know what they are talking about. That means you need to understand your business (and we as consultants have to understand, to some degree, the business of our clients). And if you don’t know enough about it (e.g. when you are new in your role) you need to say so. Be honest with yourself about what you know and don’t know. Don’t fake expertise and competence.

Interestingly, however, many people believe that competence is the most important factor for trust to evolve. As a consequence, people want to prove that they are smart. Of course, in some situations competence is absolutely critical. For example, you want to be absolutely sure that your dentist knows her trade before you entrust her with your cracked tooth. But at a more personal level, competence seems to be less important, at least compared to the other elements of trust. How do we know this? When we ask groups of clients, in a team workshop, for example, what they believe is most important for creating trust in others, many say competence or consistency. When we ask them what is most important for them personally in order to be able to trust others, many say courage and care; some say consistency. But very few actually mention competence.


People you interact with want to know if you’ll actually do what you say you will do. They want predictability, not surprises or excuses. It is hard to have confidence in a person who makes promises they don’t keep – even if they have the best intentions. Be honest with yourself before you promise something: Do you really want to do it? How much time are you able and willing to commit to it?

Don’t make promises you can’t keep, even if you think it will smooth over the situation temporarily, or appease someone in a heated discussion or uneasy situation. In the long run it will hurt you. Do what you say you will do, and if you can’t or won’t do it, don’t say you will.


Most trust models have an element called openness. People want to know what is going on inside your head. They want to feel that you’re not hiding anything from them. Any sense of a hidden agenda is very detrimental to trust. In other words, you want to be known as honest and straightforward. Honesty is not always easy, especially when we believe that the message we are sharing might be hard for the receiver to accept. Telling someone the truth even if they won’t like it – that takes courage.

Why is this so hard for many people? One underlying fear often is that we might harm the relationship with the other person. But this is the point: The moment we share a tough message with someone, we might in fact hurt that person. They might in fact prefer not to hear this message – at least not at that moment. So sometimes we decide to spare this person the tough message. However, it is very likely that the other person somehow knows that we are holding something back – and this undermines their trust in us. So if you openly and with respect for the other person tell the people how you feel, what you think and believe and what you consider to be the main priorities, you will come across as more trustworthy.


Care is a key factor in the relationship between two parties. It starts with genuine curiosity, the willingness to explore the other person’s perspective. The next step is acceptance. We all want to be accepted for who we are. We do not want to be judged or made to feel inferior. It is easy to give the impression to others that they are inadequate or not as good as we are. This definitely undermines trust. Accept the other person for who they are – intelligent or not so intelligent, successful or not so successful, happy or not so happy, etc. Acceptance means not judging the person as a person. But acceptance is not enough. We also need to have the other person’s interests at heart. Do we really care about them? Do we look after their interests even if they are not in the room? Do we really want them to shine? Such intentions cannot be faked. Only if we cultivate them in ourselves can we connect to the other person at a deeper level.

How can we help our clients with regard to trust?

When we work in teams, trust is almost always an issue. People often want to have more of it. It is not that we see a lot of distrust in teams. When trust is low, that does not mean that people distrust each other. But it does mean that there is an opportunity for the people on the team to have a more productive, creative – and more satisfying – relationship with one another.

We have designed a workshop module that helps leaders to a) increase awareness of their individual trustworthiness and the level of trust in their team, and b) develop specific actions to increase both individual and team trust.

A conversation about trust is often a shortcut into the realm of meaning. Just watch for cues. One of these might be a skeptical look when you talk about the team or comments such as “You never know what’s going on in people’s minds…” A good question to start a trust conversation with might be: “Do you believe people trust you? If so, why?” And perhaps this is also a good question to start with when reflecting on your own trustworthiness. Enjoy.



– What do we know about it? How can we build it? (1/2)

– What do we know about it? How can we build it? (2/2)


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Wolfhart Pentz
Wolfhart Pentz
Wolfhart Pentz leitet die Praxisgruppe Leadership Services in Deutschland und konzentriert sich auf die Entwicklung von Führungskräften und die…
Kathrin Heinitz
Kathrin Heinitz
Kathrin arbeitet an der Weiterentwicklung und Validierung der Egon Zehnder-Diagnostik. Als promovierte Psychologin und ehemalige Juniorprofessorin für Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie sichert sie unseren hohen Anspruch an Evidenz und Qualität. Daneben berät sie bei Projekten in den Bereichen Top-Management und Organisationsentwicklung. Kathrin hat zu den Themen Leadership, Positive Psychologie in Organisationen und Diversität geforscht und zahlreiche Fachartikel publiziert.
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