Representor Spring 2023 - Feature Article


Let’s talk about trust

Cesare Giammarco

By Cesare Giammarco & John Simari

Trust. No other word is so frequently uttered during any ERA Conference. At prior conferences, the RDM (rep, distributor, manufacturer) Pulse Check breakout sessions gave participants a forum to raise issues that impact or hinder business. Trust – or lack of it – was mentioned in nearly every session.

As planning began for 2023 ERA Conference breakout sessions, we felt it was essential that we continue discussion on this topic. But how? Trust is not something that can be taught. We didn’t want to stoop to an exercise where people fell backwards trusting that someone would catch them. Instead, we chose to have a session where small groups could continue a discussion on trust. We appropriately named it “Let’s Talk about Trust…”

John Simari

Nearly 150 conference attendees joined us for the sessions. We hoped that people would gain a better grasp of recognizing and addressing trust issues. And we challenged people to do a self-assessment on common trust attributes.

We posed several questions for each of the teams to discuss. We then debriefed, letting tables share what they discussed and we documented the input. Here’s a summary of what those responses were when we asked the following questions. (Note: These comments were taken from session participants. They do not necessarily reflect the view of the authors or ERA.)

How do you know if you can trust the people you work with or not?

“To determine whether you can trust people you work with, several factors should be considered.”

“Trust everyone until, or unless, they violate that trust.”

“Reputation and intuition are important. Important to validate issues with facts.”

“Read people’s body language. Do they ‘walk the talk?’”

“Look for consistency over time; history can establish credibility.”

“Honesty in delivering both good and bad news. Willing to find answers.”

“Individuals who are defensive, lack selfawareness, bad-mouth co-workers, or other reps or distributors may not be trustworthy.”

How does trust or a lack of it impact how you interact with others?

“Lack of trust has a significant impact on how one interacts with others. It can turn a collaborative relationship into a transactional one. This can result in lost opportunities and decreased motivation.”

“Lack of trust can lead to limited transparency, less time collaborating and inefficient processes. [It] can also result in more micromanagement and skepticism.”

“People are less willing to collaborate with people they may not trust.”

“Entire process can slow down and become energy-draining and unproductive.”

What can you do to present yourself as trustworthy?

“Formal accreditation confirms a level of expertise which can enhance trust; make sure to share this.”

“Present oneself with transparency; do not over-promise but work to over-deliver.”

“Approach each opportunity through the perspective of others. Consider how your actions will benefit others.”

“Listening. Empathizing.” “Planning for eventualities and pitfalls. Admit mistakes. Apologize when necessary.”

“Proactive communication. Communicate changes. Keep commitments.”

“Be mindful of your own body language, eye contact and professional behavior.”

“Be respectful [and] on-time.” “Set realistic expectations. Avoid negative talk.”

“Proactively address problems and take ownership in resolving issues.”

How do you regain trust that has been lost?

“Consistent, trustworthy actions over time.”

“Be open, honest and self-aware of prior interactions.”

“Work through any open or pending issues with personal, face-to-face communications.”

“Accept responsibility for any trust-breaking actions.”

“It’s important to understand why others may believe that trust has been broken, recognizing alternative viewpoints and perspectives.”

“Stepping up when there is an opportunity to regain trust in the future.”

“When appropriate, appeal to trusted people to vouch for you based on their experience with you.”

“Giving people a second chance and setting a plan to regain trust with defined actions can be useful in regaining trust.”

Foundations of trust

The noted group responses provide excellent guidance on ways to address the issue of trust, whether it is related to those you work with or positioning yourself as a trustworthy business associate. We summarized the group feedback into four fundamental building blocks that we reference here as the “foundations of trust” and would apply to all your business interactions to facilitate a trusting, productive business relationship:

Transparency and openness. Proactively sharing non-proprietary information and activities can positively influence business relationships. For example: manufacturers, consider sharing strategy and policy changes with your reps and distributors. Reps, share organizational changes and/or line strategies with your principals and distributors. Distributors, share any personnel, strategic or productfocused activity with suppliers and reps.

Honesty. In all interactions, be honest when sharing information or responding to requests for information or questions from your business partner. This reinforces trust and reflects integrity in the business relationship.

Inclusion. Invite your business partners to be included proactively in any policy or strategic decisions that would have a significant impact on them and your collective business relationship. It will allow for all parties to understand the impact and provide for alternative approaches for consideration if needed.

“Walk the talk.” Consistently do what you will say you will do. This is the essence of establishing long term-trust and integrity.

Each of these 75-minute sessions enabled participants to think about and share how trust – or lack of it – impacts their business. The goal of the sessions was to have people walk away thinking about how they might recognize and address trust issues in the future and develop a simple checklist to gauge their own trustworthiness as they look in the mirror each morning.