How Not to Lose Trust: Avoid These 8 Common Mistakes

Here is some simple, practical advice for those of you out there whose job it is to nurture trust in your organization or brand. To avoid bankrupting your trust account, stay clear of these eight common mistakes:

1. Do not say “no comment” when the data and facts are against you.

It’s not rocket science: if you act like you have something to hide, then people will think you are hiding something. And if you leave an information vacuum, then you are handing your competitors an opportunity to fill it for you. And by doing so they will be burnishing their own reputation at the expense of yours.

2. Do not refer sexual harassment claims to the HR department.

These days HR departments fall into the same trust category as Russian bots and the water in Flint, Michigan. Fairly or not, HR departments have been painted as complicit in almost every corporate sexual harassment story in the last year. HR is now so crippled with its own crisis that it’s obviously the wrong choice to assist with anyone else’s. (See also point 8 below.)

3. Do not hide behind legal.

We understand that the legal beagles in your organizations mean well and are trying to protect the institution. But so is corporate communications. If legal responds to a tricky or suspicious situation with “no comment” or some mealy-mouthed waffling, then they’re not helping. People will naturally suspect the worst. Your credibility with your stakeholders will be shot and your trust reserves depleted. Rebuilding that trust is a lot more expensive than settling a lawsuit. Encourage your lawyers to understand the effect their statements have on real people.

4. Do not damage the environment.

After the Deepwater Horizon (BP) oil spill, the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, and the Flint water crisis, just to name a few, corporate and regulatory malfeasance is increasingly suspected of being behind most environmental disasters. Whatever it is you make or do, make sure you do it safely and sustainably.

5. Do not bribe anyone, anywhere.

If 2017 taught us anything, it’s that, if you are involved in corruption or bribery anywhere on the planet, then it will come back to haunt you at home. Just look at Bell Pottinger and KPMG in South Africa, the U.S. Navy with its Fat Leonard scandal, Airbus, Samsung, FIFA… The list is long, and you don’t want to be on it. In a time when income inequality is a rallying cry and government trust is crashing, all you need is a corruption investigation to tank your trust, your reputation, and your stock price.

6. Do not get political.

It’s tough to stay completely out of politics these days; there’s a good chance it will follow you wherever you go. You do not want to attract the ire of #grabyourwallet and join their list of companies to boycott. Just ask Nordstrom, L.L. Bean, New Balance… you get the idea. Whether the tweetstorm is generated by Russian bots or frustrated customers, you don’t care! Keep your brand away from politics. As Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer will tell you, Republicans and Democrats have very different perspectives on what they trust, and you don’t want to be thrown under either bus.

7. Do not lie.

If you say the sky is orange, but everybody can see that the sky is really blue, then people aren’t going to trust you. (Even if they voted for you for POTUS.)

8. Do not sexually harass your office workers or beat your spouse.

Sexual abuse will, sadly, not become a thing of the past. But getting away with it is, thankfully, becoming less frequent. If you have even the slightest suspicion that you or anyone in your organization has a problem, seek help now. ∞

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Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.