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The Fast Lane to Trust

What is the value of trust? That is difficult to gauge. It is easier to calculate the cost when trust is lacking.

Stephen M.R. Covey calls mistrust a tax on your business. Mistrust makes it harder to get referrals and adds friction to your work environment. You end up fighting an uphill battle.

You really feel it when trust is lacking. But having trust creates a dividend. It encourages enthusiastic referrals that lead to effortless sales. Life is easier. Business is fun.

Who doesn’t want that?

Covey is carrying on the legacy of his father, Stephen R. Covey, who wrote The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, the groundbreaking book that became essential reading for anybody wanting a more productive life.

Stephen M.R. Covey became CEO of his father’s company, Covey Leadership Center, and he doubled sales within three years. He then orchestrated the merger to create FranklinCovey. Covey parlayed his leadership experience into the book The Speed Of Trust, which explains how trust makes success possible. He founded and now heads CoveyLink Worldwide and speaks internationally about leadership and trust.

In this interview with Publisher Paul Feldman, Covey explains the value of trust to a business and how to earn that trust.

FELDMAN: Gallup recently released the results of its poll on the most trusted professions and unfortunately insurance was pretty far down on the list.

COVEY: It’s interesting because when that Gallup survey comes out every year measuring the professions, who you see at the top of the list tends to be in the medical profession and the like. That bottom of the list is often people in sales, and the question is kind of “What’s their agenda? Are they trying to make a sale or are they trying to really add value and really focus on their clients?”

The key to improving the trust we have and become that trusted advisor — not just a salesperson — is to truly focus on the win of the client, so that we’re helping the client succeed and we declare our intent. They see it, they know it and they feel it. They see it in our behavior and we create value for them. And as we create more value, that builds the trust. When we build the trust, our ability to create value goes up and becomes a virtuous upward spiral.

Unfortunately, too often we’re starting with a deficit as an industry. That’s the reality. The fact that insurance sales and advisory work are low on the list means that we have an “inheritance tax.” So what we must do is counteract that consciously, deliberately. But here’s my message: If you as an insurance salesperson, as an insurance advisor, as a trusted advisor can get a reputation, a brand for being credible, for being trusted, what an advantage that is in a low-trust world where the trust is going down all around us.

It’s a challenge, but it’s also an extraordinary opportunity to differentiate yourself on the basis of trust. That’s the opportunity.

FELDMAN: Yes. How do you differentiate yourself with trust?

COVEY: Trust is the one thing that changes everything. The more credible you are as a person, as a leader, as an advisor, the faster you can build trust with other people. The less credible you seem, the harder it is to do that.

We must focus on credibility and that’s got two halves to it: a character half and a competence half. The character half is all about your integrity and your intent. Are you seeking mutual benefit? Win-win? Or is it just a self-serving agenda? Do you care? Do you care about the client you’re serving? Do they know that you care? Or do they see you as just trying to get a sale and make the deal?

Your integrity and your intent flow from your character. The higher you build that and build a reputation and a brand that precedes you, it goes in front of you and you can build trust exceptionally fast that way. So that’s half of it: character.

The other half is competence. And that’s all about your abilities, your talents, your skills, but also your results, your track record. What’s your track record? Who are your clients and are they referenceable? What do they say about you and your performance and what you do for them to create value?

The more you build your personal credibility, the quicker you can build trust with other people.

It starts with credibility, but the second half of building trust moves to behavior. It’s how we interact with our clients and with our prospects, and how you do what you do can make all the difference. It’s the idea that trust is a function of this credibility.

There are certain behaviors that will build trust exceptionally fast. That’s what my work on The Speed Of Trust is about, identifying the highest leverage behaviors.


FELDMAN: What I found really interesting about your book was so much of it was actually about you. That you need to have trust in yourself before others will find trust in you.

COVEY: Absolutely. Think about it, if you don’t trust yourself, how are you going to sustain trust with other people? Because at some point, that distrust of self will bleed out into the other relationships.

FELDMAN: Whether they realize it or not.

COVEY: They may not realize it. But it usually will come out.

If you start with yourself, you will then be able to more quickly, more naturally, more abundantly build trust with others. Self-trust precedes relationship trust. Relationship trust precedes team trust.

Look in the mirror first. Start with yourself. If you do that, then you can really start to build trust with other people. The good news is that it’s always in our circle of influence: We always say, “Hey, what can I do?” I look in the mirror: I start with myself. Trust starts with each of us. And when we do that, then we can build it more with other people.

That’s counterintuitive to people who think, “Well, this is about the relationship.” It is. And if you look in the mirror first, you can build a better relationship.

FELDMAN: It starts with looking in the mirror and trusting the self. It starts with little things. The little things make the difference. Even using your alarm clock and saying, “Hey, I set it for 6 a.m., I’m getting up at 6 a.m.” Then you can build on those commitments.

COVEY: Absolutely. The quickest way to build trust with another person is to make a commitment to them and then keep it. Make another commitment and keep it. Repeat that process. Make, keep, repeat, make, keep, repeat. You can build trust quickly that way. Guess what? That’s also the quickest way to build trust with yourself. Learn to make commitments to yourself and then keep them.

The most important commitments are those little ones because those are the ones we often don’t keep and we say, “Ah, this doesn’t matter. It’s not important.”

It could be as simple as, like you say, “I set my alarm for 6 a.m. to get up and go exercise.” When it goes off the next morning, do I hit the snooze button and go back to sleep, or do I get up and exercise like I intended to?

You might say, “Well, that’s not a commitment,” but maybe it is. And in that little thing, that very action of making and keeping commitments — small commitments — that’s where a greater sense of clarity, of integrity, of empowerment begins to emerge. So make and keep commitments with yourself, starting especially with the little things.

And I like the expression by Albert Einstein that if you can’t be trusted with the little things, you won’t be trusted with the big things. I like to put it this way —there are no little things.

FELDMAN: What would you say about working on trust even if you’re a skilled advisor or insurance professional?

COVEY: First of all, the skilled ones are probably good at trust naturally or they become good at it. But you can get better. And getting better has a huge payoff. This is not a little, nice, warm and fuzzy social virtue. Trust is an economic driver. It is a multiplier.

It affects the speed at which you can move and the cost of everything. Think of a referral business, that is the speed of trust in action because it is your client telling your prospect that they should trust you. And there’s a transference of trust from your client to your prospect. Your prospect becomes a new client faster and at less cost. There’s always a speed to trust and when the trust goes up, the speed goes up with it and the cost goes down. That is a dividend.

The opposite is true as well. There’s a tax. When the trust goes down for whatever reason, that is a withdrawal and you will pay a tax. Maybe you don’t keep a commitment. You said you’re going to call them but you don’t call them or you’re going to get back with them, on this date and you don’t. Or you’re inauthentic or you spin something instead of just talking straight about it.

They’ll start to trust you less, they’ll start to question everything else you’re saying and doing and suddenly everything takes you longer. Everything costs you more. They’re far less apt to be a referenceable client for you and so forth. There are real economics to trust. This matters.

It’s not just kind of a warm and fuzzy social virtue: it’s financial, it is a multiplier. It changes everything in sales, in leadership, in life. That’s what’s exciting.

It’s really the single highest leverage thing you can do because if you get good at trust, it makes you better at everything else you’re trying to do. You get a multiplier working for you when you’re trusted versus a diminisher working against you when you’re not trusted.

I focus on why this matters and how you build trust through your credibility and through your behavior. You can behave your way into greater trust and turn this into your greatest strength. Trust is really the one thing that changes everything.

And you already said this matters because we’re operating in a low-trust world.

FELDMAN: Yes, we are in a low-trust profession. We have to be able to overcome that with every chance that we have.

COVEY: Absolutely. You know, we’ve got a headwind. And because the profession is seen that way — fairly or unfairly — that’s kind of an inheritance tax. We need to counteract that by being extraordinarily credible and trusted in terms of how we approach things. And as we do that, it makes a profound difference.

FELDMAN: Most people would think headwinds are bad, but every plane takes off into the headwinds. So there’s an opportunity here, and I think that this industry is just missing a huge opportunity in the marketplace. You know life insurance ownership is down. Right now, we have 70 percent of the American population that either says they’re underinsured or doesn’t have any insurance whatsoever.

COVEY: We’re working with people, with prospects, with clients and trying to make a sale, create value for them, build a relationship, become a trusted advisor — the very first job is really to create trust. The second job is to create value because — think about it — people view value through the lens of whether they trust you or not.

If you can start off by building trust through your credibility and your behavior, then suddenly people view you through a different lens. And in a profession that starts with a trust deficit, sometimes we’re starting in the hole and so we have to counteract that.

I agree with you that rather than viewing that as a negative, I think that’s the opportunity where you can differentiate yourself. You can stand out and you’ll cut through all kinds of noise and clutter to be the high-trust player in a low-trust profession. Not only that, you’ll elevate the profession. Trust is confidence. In fact, in many languages trust and confidence are the exact same word. In English we have two words, but in many languages it’s indistinguishable. Same word.

The opposite of trust is suspicion. I don’t trust someone if I’m suspicious about their agenda.

Someone’s selling to me and I’m questioning their agenda — “Are they after my interest or their own?” Or I’m suspicious about their integrity or about their ability to deliver, to perform, to come through, to do what they said they’re going to do. It’s confidence versus suspicion.

Now, where does that confidence come from? I suggest it comes from two sources. It comes from having both character and competence. Both are vital. If you have one but lack the other, you won’t sustain the trust. So trust, what is it? It is confidence that comes from having both character and competence. And that combination gives people a person, a leader, a team, an advisor, a product that they can trust.

FELDMAN: Can you accelerate the speed at which trust is achieved?

COVEY: Absolutely. Trust is learnable. It is a skill and it’s a competence. I like how you phrased that, Paul — “Can you accelerate it?” Yes. Can you take a shortcut? No. There are no shortcuts, but there is an accelerator.

The key here is that we understand what trust is and also how we build trust. Trust is built from the inside out — meaning we start with ourselves. Look in the mirror. It comes from our credibility and our behavior.

Let’s say I’m in a new relationship — whether with a client or a prospect or someone on my team — and I want to accelerate in building trust. How can I do that?       

Here’s a three-step process: The first step is to declare your intent. Tell them not only what you want to do, tell them why.

Always give the why behind the what. Sometimes people give the what but they often don’t give the why. The why gives meaning. The why gives context. The why can change everything. So give the why.

FELDMAN: Can you give us an example of what that looks like?

COVEY: You come in and you say, “Hey, I’m glad to be with you. I’d really like to serve you. My goal is to help you succeed. And that’s what I’m all about. I measure my success by your success. It’s my only measure. So what I’m trying to do is build a relationship, and I want you to be able to trust me because if we can trust each other, everything’s better. So I’ll go first about this.”

I declare my intent to build a relationship of trust in any relationship. That’s the first thing: declare your intent.

The second thing is I signal my behavior — meaning that I tell them what I’m going to do. Use the term “signaling your behavior.” It’s kind of like if I’m driving on the freeway in the middle lane and I want to go in the left lane, what do I do? Or what should I do?

FELDMAN: Put your turn signal on.

COVEY: Not everyone does it, right? But, you know, turn the blinker on: signal. Now who am I doing that for? For myself? No. I know what I’m going to do. I’m doing it for others so they might know. That way, they’re looking for it, they’re aware of it.

And when I signal my behavior to others, it’s a similar thing — they’re looking for it, they’re aware of it. So that means I tell them what I’m going to do.

“So here’s what you need to know about me. If I make you a commitment, you can count on it because I won’t make a commitment I won’t keep. If I’m going to talk to you, I’m going to talk straight and honest with you. If I have a concern or an issue, I’ll come straight to you. I won’t go around you or behind your back. If I have an agenda, it will be an open agenda. I won’t have a hidden agenda with you.”

I’m telling people what I’m going to do. I signal my behavior. That’s the second step.

The third step is now I simply do what I say I’m going to do. I just told them I was going to do it and now I do it -- I deliver. I made a commitment to them, and I keep it. I deliver it, I do what I say I’m going to do. And if you do that, you’ll build trust.

If you do that third step, you’ll build trust. But you’ll build it a lot faster if you do the first two steps in front of the third. In other words, if you declare your intent and then signal your behavior and then you do what you say you’re going to do, they see it, they’re looking for it, they’re aware of it, and they credit you faster than had you not done those first two steps in front of the third.

And so that’s a kind of way to accelerate trust, build it faster. People are looking for it, and they’ll give you more credit for it. 

NEXT MONTH: Stephen M.R. Covey explains how he found the value of trust and what it was like growing up Covey.


Founder, President, Publisher [email protected].

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