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Judith E. Glaser Headshot

Trust Me

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The decision to trust or distrust someone occurs instantly. That moment -- whether it is a handshake, a telephone call, or an email -- locks in a relationship trajectory that may last for weeks, months, or a lifetime.

Our brains are conditioned to make snap judgments in identifying our friends and foes -- those people who we trust to act in our best interest as opposed to those who will take advantage of us.

For financial planners, it's vital to understand trust. Trust begins and maintains successful client relationships, while distrust can end them. Here's what I mean by trust and distrust.

Trust looks like this: I trust that you and I share the same view of reality. I trust that you will have my best interests at heart (you care about me); that you will not cause me to fear you. I can be open and candid with you and share everything that's on my mind. (You demonstrate that you are my friend, not my foe.)

Distrust looks like this: You and I see the world very differently. We disagree on what's important. I feel you have your own interests at heart, not mine. I am afraid to share what's on my mind for fear you'll use it against me. (You act like a foe, not a friend.)

It is essential to recognize how these two forces drive our personal interactions and relationships. To understand them in a different way, consider the simple analogy of a door that guards the pathway to our inner self. When we feel trust, we readily open that door, leading to an exchange of thoughts, feelings, and dreams with someone else. When we distrust someone, we will slam our door as quickly as possible in self-defense.

Our level of trust is often changed, by the way we share information -- that is, through conversations. Conversations trigger physical and emotional changes in our brains and bodies through altering the amounts of two of the most powerful hormones that affect social interaction: oxytocin, which enables bonding and collaboration, and testosterone, which enables our aggressive behaviors.

According to Angelika Dimoka, Ph.D. of Temple University, the brain is where trust lives or dies. Distrust takes place in the lower brain (the amygdala and limbic areas); trust takes place in the higher brain (prefrontal cortex).

Bruce S. McEwen, Ph.D., head of the Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at The Rockefeller University, told me:

Trust is a phenomenon that is enhanced by oxytocin, which gets people to be socially interactive. Then you have the amygdala, which is the sentinel along with the prefrontal cortex, paying attention to decide if the interaction is going to be rewarding or punishing. If the interaction is punishing we feel more aggressive and untrustful. We have to be wary and we move into protect behaviors.

If the interaction feels good, you have more oxytocin and you relax. Under stress, testosterone levels are increased. Testosterone works against oxytocin as does cortisol, another powerful hormone that is increased by stress. It's the balance between these hormones and the interacting neural systems that give us the feelings of trust or distrust.

Five characteristics of a conversation bring about a sense of well-being and connectivity with others. Elevate the level of trust by:

Transparency: being more open with clients about the framework of your engagement, your intentions, and the kinds of decisions they will be making helps create a stronger relationship built on trust. When clients don't know your intentions, they feel you may have hidden agendas, even if you don't. Share information and be open to discuss why you do what you do -- this turns threat into trust.


• Encourage candid conversations that promote transparency and trust around the topics of intentions, financial frameworks, and decisions, and even "how we're doing" and "what we need to do and not do" to mitigate against risks.

• Provide your honest insights and share your feelings -- this actually strengthens the partnering bonds and minimizes the feelings you are out for your own self-interest.

Relationships: building relationships before working on tasks is paramount and provides a foundation for both handling difficult issues and identifying aspirations. Focus on getting in sync with clients' needs and aspirations to create strong bonds.


• Decide on the core values to guide your actions and agreements.

• Set and practice rules of engagement that foster open, candid, and caring conversations.

Understanding: appreciating your clients' and prospects' perspectives and points of view strengthens bonds of trust. Listen and ask more questions. Minimize fighting for your point of view and maximize exploring others' perspectives.


• Make it a practice to ask for and listen to feedback from others who may not agree with your perspectives.

• Ask "what if?" questions to open the doors to new ways of thinking without prejudging the ideas of others. And really listen!

Shared Success: defining success with others creates a shared meaning about what is and isn't important to work on together. By defining success together, everyone contributes to co-creating the future we believe in.


• Initiate conversations about mutual success and what success looks like for you and your clients.

• Encourage clients to communicate and discuss the shared view of success with others.

Truth-telling: speaking with candor and caring; and when misunderstandings occur, taking risks with courage and facing reality with openness to learn.
Working and narrowing the reality gaps with others creates alignment and builds bonds of trust.


• When gaps between your truth and your client's truth appear, discuss them to create bridges of understanding.

• Hold and encourage conversations that start with empathy and move toward a common goal or outcome.

If you build a foundation of trust to guide your interactions with clients, prospects, and peers, you'll realize higher productivity and a sustained focus on achieving extraordinary goals.

Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc., and Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is the author of 7 books including her new best selling book - Conversational Intelligence; How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion)
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