Education, Management, Tips & Advice, Training

Building and sustaining an environment of trust in business

A critical factor in any organisation’s prosperity is the creation of an atmosphere of belief and confidence across all aspects of the business. Mike Cameron explains why the trust equation is at the core of this success.

In today’s world of a Royal Commission into the financial sector, glib double-talk and broken election promises from politicians, greedy and fraudulent behaviour by corporate leaders, and more, we are rapidly becoming a nation of cynics who are crying out for strong leadership and a return to old school thinking, such as trust, values and ethics.

It is a fundamental responsibility of all leaders to set an example and ensure that they review and modify, where necessary, corporate directives, leadership behaviour, communication style and team interactions – internally, with suppliers/contractors, and the community.

This article highlights three areas to start that renewal process:

  1. Trustworthiness.
  2. Priming for trust through Conversational Essentials®.
  3. Understanding the value of coaching and effectively applying those skills.

Finally, by way of supporting some self-reflection, I’ve concluded by highlighting the key takeaways from my previous articles on the “Intelligences”:

  • Conversational.
  • Emotional.
  • Management.


Charles H Green and David Maister (2000) co-wrote a book entitled The Trusted Advisor, in which there is a remarkable evaluation tool that they refer to as the Trust Equation.1

When one thinks of trust and what it means, you quickly realise that it encompasses many things. The word “trust” is used to:

  • Interpret what people say.
  • Describe behaviours.
  • Decide if we feel comfortable sharing information.
  • Indicate whether we feel other people have our interests at heart.

Trust relationships are vital to the way we do business today. In fact, the level of trust in business relationships, whether internal with employees or colleagues or external with clients and partners, is the greatest determinant of success.

The challenge is having a conceptual framework and analytical way of evaluating and understanding trust. Without the proper framework for evaluating trust, there is no actionable way to improve our trustworthiness. The Trust Equation (Figure 1) is a deconstructive, analytical model of trustworthiness that can be easily understood and used to help both yourself and your organisation. It uses four objective variables to measure trustworthiness:

  • Credibility.
  • Reliability.
  • Intimacy.
  • Self-orientation.

These four variables are combined to create the above equation.

The T in this model stands for trust quotient. It is a calculated number (like your IQ or EQ) that benchmarks your trustworthiness against the four variables. Let’s dig into each variable a bit more.


  1. Credibility has to do with the words we speak. In a sentence we might say, “I can trust what she says about intellectual property. She’s very credible on the subject.”
  2. Reliability has to do with actions. We might say, “If he says he’ll deliver the product tomorrow, I trust him, because he’s dependable.”
  3. Intimacy refers to the safety or security that we feel when entrusting someone with something. We might say, “I can trust her with that information. She’s never violated my confidentiality before, and she would never embarrass me.”
  4. Self-orientation refers to the person’s focus. In particular, whether the person’s focus is primarily on himself or herself, or on the other person. We might say, “I can’t trust him on this deal. I don’t think he cares enough about me, he’s focused on what he gets out of it.” Or more commonly: “I don’t trust him. I think he’s too concerned about how he’s appearing, so he’s not really paying attention.”

The Trust Equation has one variable in the denominator and three in the numerator.

It is worthwhile noting that to increase the value of the factors in the numerator increases the value of trust. To increase the value of the denominator (self-orientation) decreases the value of trust.

Self-orientation, which sits alone in the denominator, is the most important variable in the Trust Equation.

Trust Advisor (Associates LLC) developed the Trust Equation formula this way on purpose. For example, if a salesperson with low self-orientation is free to completely and honestly focus on the customer – not for their own sake, but for the sake of the customer. Such a focus is rare among salespeople – or people in general for that matter. Nonetheless, the truth in selling is that you succeed more at sales when you stop trying to sell. When all you focus upon is helping prospects, those potential customers tend to trust you more and buy from you more as well.


The Trust Equation covers the most common meanings of trust that you encounter in everyday business interactions. What is important to remember is that the meanings are almost entirely personal, not institutional.

People rarely give over their trust to institutions; really, they trust other people.

While companies are often described as credible and reliable (the first two components of The Trust Equation), it is really the people within the companies that make those companies what they are. The variables of intimacy and self-orientation are almost entirely about people.

Trust in business and selling requires good “scores” on all four variables in the Trust Equation. You want high credibility, reliability and intimacy, and low self-orientation.

Living the four trust values is the best way to increase your trustworthiness.

The Trust Equation provides a scientific, analytical and actionable framework for how you can help yourself improve your life or your organisation/business.2


  • Being open to influence: Connecting without judgement; engaging and listening to what others are saying and even thinking, rather than preparing for what we want to say next.
  • Priming for trust: Creating a healthy mental, emotional and conversational environment that activates higher levels of partnering.

Think of this essential as the foundation of Conversational Intelligence®.3

Trust is when we believe others will deliver on their promises. Distrust is when we doubt others are telling the truth and assume they will not deliver on their promises. Priming for trust enables us to work as partners and opens us up to achieve higher levels of success with others. Trust involves actively bringing the following behaviours into your interactions with others:

  • Transparency.
  • Relationship.
  • Understanding.
  • Shared success.
  • Truth telling.

Figure 2. The coaching quadrant.

  • Questions which you/we have no answers: Being in a mindset of discovery, and co-creating a space of sharing and discovering.
  • Listening to connect, not judge, confirm or reject: Focusing attention on the other person; opening yourself up to connect to the other person’s aspiration and “view of the world” in a non-judgmental way.
  • Sustaining conversational agility: Moving in and out of conversations with ease and agility; create new “conversational space” that elevates trust and invites wisdom and insight to emerge.
  • Double-clicking: Uncover and explore what is in the other person’s mind, gaining clarity and deeper understanding of others’ perspectives, their deeply held beliefs, and their unique points of view.

Understanding the importance of effective communication – as a key management competency – is crucial, but mastering and applying the essential fundamentals of Conversational Intelligence® is the key to success in the leadership role.


The C-IQ coaching model (Figure 2) will be of real value, especially if you take Michael Bungay Stanier4 and Judith E Glaser’s advice to say less and, when you do talk, ask questions for which you have no answers.

Finally, when working on team trust, shared values and ethical behaviour, please support your own learning and personal growth through reflecting on key aspects from the following abstracts from my previous three articles on the ‘Intelligences’.

Figure 3. How the Conversational Intelligence quotient model can change reality.


Author and organisational anthropologist Judith E Glaser referred to Conversational Intelligence as the key to success in life and business. Her book Conversational Intelligence clearly defined and articulated that it is not about how smart you are, but how open you are to learn new, effective and powerful conversational rituals that prime the brain for trust, partnership, and mutual success (see Figure 3).


What exactly is Emotional Intelligence (EI)? Most thinkers on the subject note these factors:

  • Self-awareness – the recognition of one’s own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Self-regulation – the ability to manage emotion and express it appropriately and usefully.
  • Motivation – being driven internally, rather than just working for a pay cheque.
  • Empathy – the ability to note and respond to other people’s motivations and needs.
  • People skills – the ability to win others’ respect and build rapport.

These elements fall into one of two groupings: interpersonal intelligence (turned outward, interacting with others) and intrapersonal intelligence (turned inward, understanding and managing oneself).

Daniel Goleman (2017) discussed strategies to become more emotionally intelligent in a WOBI presentation now shown on YouTube.5

Figure 4. The four behavioural competencies of the Plan, Organise, Lead and Control (POLC) model.


Management Intelligence is having the ability to lead “change” through effective communication and interpersonal awareness. It is also about evaluating the challenges, implementing strategies, and empowering and developing team members.

  • GR Jones (1995) defined “management” as the planning, organising, leading, and controlling of resources to achieve goals effectively and efficiently (Figure 4).
  • Peter Drucker (1994) referred to “efficiency” as doing things right, and “effectiveness” as doing the right thing. In other words, it is not a question of how much but rather how well the organisation achieves its goals.
  • US President Dwight D Eisenhower (1944) stated that “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because that person wants to do it”.
  • Lars Sudmann (2019) in a recent TEDxUCLouvain talk6 discussed how most people go into top positions with good intentions, but those often crumble due to the demands – and perks – of the job. He recommended that, if you want to succeed, you should devote some time and energy to self-leadership. •

Mike Cameron is an IQA member and the principal of Strategically Yours. Visit

  1. Green CH. Founder, Trusted Advisor (Associates LLC).
  2. Green CH. Founder, Trusted Advisor (Associates LLC). The trust quotient and the science behind it.
  3. Glaser JE. Conversational Intelligence®: How great leaders build trust and get extraordinary results. Routledge, First Edition, 2016. ISBN-10: 1629561436; ISBN-13: 978-1629561431.
  4. Stanier MB. The Coaching habit … Say less, ask more and change the way you lead forever. Page Two; First Edition (2016). ISBN-10: 0978440749; ISBN-13: 978-0978440749.
  5. Goleman D. Strategies to become more emotionally intelligent.
  6. Sudman L. Great leadership starts with self-leadership.

Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend