On Being CREDible: What Builds Trust?

Jon LovinkHandbook Chapter, What's Cred?

On Being Credible by Jon Lovink.

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Do you know what builds trust? Do people trust who you are, what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, where you’re doing it, why you’re doing it and how you’re doing it?

Most agree, building trust is a primary high-level goal for organizations. But, how do you get there? It’s not easy. And the work involved in doing so never stops.

I’m going to start by examining what people say trustworthy behaviour looks like. If they get that right they’ve got a pretty good starting point for any news media interview or stakeholder presentation. My experience though is that most people don’t get it right. Let me explain.

At the beginning of all ‘CREDible Spokesperson” seminars, participants are asked to share their personal views on trust- building. Most struggle with a ready answer to this simple question. It turns out it’s not something we often ask ourselves.

The fact is, most of us like to think of ourselves as trustworthy. We behave according to the principles which we believe are trustworthy ones. But how often do we think about how others perceive it in us?

Before I answer that question let’s take a look at what hundreds of people in my seminars have told me about the factors that build trust. In the world cloud below, the bigger the word, the more that factor comes up in people’s answers.

Clearly, a majority of people believe that if they can portray themselves as knowledgeable, trust will come along. They may also want to make sure they’re not evasive (and often cite certain politicians for this), that they’re transparent, honest and show good body language. But knowledge and expertise are front and centre for most, at least on first blush.

But is does this ordering of the factors that build trust correspond with the research? In fact, a deeper analysis of trust-building research does not support the ordering of these words in the way people believe it does? This a critical. Because if spokespeople think trust-building is one thing but it’s actually another, then their trust-building efforts are less likely to succeed.

The facts are, and communications research confirms, trust- building in the polarized media spotlight we live in actually is quite differently ordered than what we think it is. In part, that’s because the news business operates in an environment of conflict where it’s the tension in the news story that brings it to the front page. I’ll explain this in more detail in the News Media section of this book.

But, for now, let me bring you to a different word cloud that develops when seminars participants experiment with different kinds of trust-building message delivery on camera during practise interviews with experienced reporters. They’re often surprised by what they see and hear when they watch themselves. Instead of trustworthy experts, they see engineers who talk engineer speak, doctors who use scary-sounding ‘medicalese’, scientists who blind us with science, lawyers who spout complex legalese, senior public servants who use bureaucratic bafflegab, oil industry executives who sound like they’re talking to other oil industry people, CEO’s who appear aloof in their suits and corporate surroundings and message-driven politicians who don’t answer the questions they’re asked.

It’s fascinating to see the significant shift in trust-building perception that takes place over the course of a training seminar. Being knowledgeable and having expertise remain central. But other factors such as empathy, commitment and responsiveness move to the forefront. During practise interviews, in front of a camera with lights and a microphone and a reporter asking the tough questions, a reordered word cloud emerges for seminar participants.

The word cloud below, which emphasizes empathy in these times of mistrust is, in my view, a much more accurate ordering of how to build trust. It forms the foundation of the CREDible Spokesperson approach to managing your approach to communications when concern is high, and trust is at issue.

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About the Author

Jon Lovink

Jon Lovink is LMI’s president, senior coach and counsel. He has 20 years of intensive media and spokesperson training and counsel experience across Canada and the US. Few media trainers in Canada can lay claim to his combination of years of media and crisis communications training and counsel experience with his 20 years of background in the trenches of day-to-day news and current affairs operations. His work as as CRED™️ coach and crisis communications trainer puts him in touch with multiple clients dealing with real time current news media needs including wildfire management, major Canadian and international construction projects, first nations issues, significant national and regional government and corporate news and social media engagements.