How To Earn Trust

Do you remember the first time your trust was broken?

And the last time?

If you’re like me, just thinking about it has made you crunch your face and tighten your palm into a fist. Your eyes have shrunk. In anger.

And the best part is you’re not as annoyed with the person who broke your trust as much as you are with yourself. And that makes you hate that person a tad bit more. Because they have made you feel bad about yourself.

That way…

Trust is Tricky

Yet, trust is what we seek.

When Rose of Titanic comes to Jack at the bow of the ship and greets him, he tells her to take his hand and close her eyes, asking, “Do you TRUST me?”

“I TRUST you,” she replies.

And that trust sets the foundation of their love.

Not just their relationship, trust is the cornerstone of every relationship.

Doctors need their patients’ trust so they can confide in them about matters that may be important in making the correct diagnosis, and patients need to feel confident their doctors will not impose their personal values and priorities on them.

For lawyers, a client’s trust is a very serious asset: if the client doesn’t trust the lawyer, then the whole relationship falls apart. The client will withhold the truthful information, which will handicap the lawyer’s ability to effectively represent the client.

Fans trust their favorite celebrities with advice and endorsements. And celebrities work hard to maintain that trust, or their credibility will take a severe beating.

Them and all of us are vying for the trust of our prospects…and team members.

If they don’t trust us, they will not work with us; they will not buy from us. Period.

Trust Trumps Everything. Even Quality and Qualifications.

When you meet people in professional settings, what is the first thing they ask?

“What do you do?”


Have you ever wondered why?

Because they want to know:

  • Who you really are;
  • What you want; and,
  • Whether or not you are trustworthy.

At all times and every time, you are viewed through trust-colored glasses.


Because that’s how our mind works: it wants to believe in things, but it also has this self-protective mechanism that makes it suspicious of people.


How Do You Measure Up?

Just thinking about it makes me swelter.

It’s not just about being liked; it’s about credibility.

All that we take so much pride in, our experiences and our expertise, can get irrelevant when it comes to something as intangible as trust.

And that’s mind-boggling.

But, there is some good news.

Trust can be earned.

Here’s how:

Meet Your Weak Superheroes

Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man.

Wait…what? Weak and them?

Yes, them. It’s their weaknesses that connect you with them…that make you trust them. You are swayed away by their ordinary humanness, not by their superhumanness.

Down deep, if we’re honest, I believe we are fascinated with how they fight the odds – not because they are perfect but despite the fact they are not.

Superman craves for belongingness. Batman lacks control in the outcomes of many situations. Spider-man cannot seem to get his life together.

We relate to their struggles.

Our heart goes out to Spider-man dealing with the distress of seeing Mary Jane date Harry, Batman dealing with the guilt of not being able to save Rachel Dawes, and Superman feeling lonely despite being surrounded by people.

And that makes us connect with them on a deeper, more personal level.

They motivate us, inspire us, and help us in dealing with our own mess.

Because they are super heroes, the impact becomes so much more powerful. And the connection far more compelling.

Despite our shortcomings, they make us “feel” comfortable with ourselves. They make us realize we can also be like them: superheroes of our lives.

And all this happens not because we admire their powers but because we empathize with their vulnerabilities, their imperfections.

The Power of Imperfection

Can I tell you a little story?

On one of the days in February 2015, my Facebook newsfeed was flooded with a post by a girl, . In that post, she had shared the artwork of an artist in an effort to help him find a job in her hometown, Karachi. It went viral: more than 2000 people shared it – including several of my friends.

When I saw that, I put her in touch with one of the executives at a local television station, hoping media attention would help spread the word. It’s different that the artist couldn’t be contacted when the reporters tried to reach out to him. He was probably overwhelmed by the attention.

Regardless, Maaheem stayed in touch.

Since she is in interested in a career in marketing, she asked for an informational interview.

Later, she would often send me interesting news stories, keeping in mind what I liked. I was most surprised (and may I say, touched) when I received a sweet sticker on my birthday that read: I Love Mr. Darcy .

I didn’t even remember that I had told her about my love for Mr. Darcy, but she did. She remembered.

Besides being thoughtful, what I found different about her from others who reach out to me for professional advice was her understanding of herself.

She didn’t try to paint a perfect picture of herself and shared her fears with as much frankness as was in her power.

The best part?

She didn’t struggle with her vulnerabilities and had the courage to be imperfect. And that made her very real for me. Very trustworthy!

I saw a little bit of myself in her – when I was in my 20s.

  • When I gave a damn.
  • When I was unabashedly myself.
  • When I was willing to let go of what I should be in order to be who I was.

I could pick up the phone and cold call and email anybody. From the heads of consulting firms and managing partners of law firms to board members of nonprofits and editors of leading newspapers, I landed informational interviews with the who’s who of New York City.

And that opened up several professional and business opportunities for me. In fact, all my business came through those connections.

This may sound easy-breezy to you, and I wouldn’t deny this…it was easy. Not because I’m a pro at it, but because I was so raw and inexperienced that I didn’t know what it meant to be perfect. I was what I was.

  • I was willing to invest in professional relationships without expectations.
  • I was okay with being turned down.
  • I wasn’t trying to be what I was not.

All this helped. Big time.

I didn’t realize it then, but I recognize it now.

Our vulnerabilities make us real. And in this world of perfections, when people see imperfections, they trust that much more.

Look What Oprah Did

Have you ever wondered what makes Oprah one of the most powerful and influential people in the world? She is not just a brand – she builds brands. Overnight. If she endorses a product, people buy. Why? Because they trust her. And she has earned that trust by her remarkable ability to reveal her vulnerabilities. She has been very open about the painful episodes in her life.

So, if Oprah can do this, we can.

F**k the Finesse

And embrace your flaws. Even vulnerabilities.

When you meet new people in business settings, don’t go on and on about how accomplished you are. Share stories of your struggles and admit to the challenges you have faced.

During job interviews, don’t spin a positive into something that could appear negative just to get through the question without looking like you actually have any weaknesses. That’s just dumb. Think about areas you’d like to work on and be honest. And stop giving phony answers that make you look good.

When you are pitching to investors, share your challenges in growing your business – the obstacles you faced along the way. This can be a perfect opportunity for you to shine, depending on how you present that. Besides, it is better if you point out the problems during the pitch (when the floor is yours) instead of letting it come up during Q&A when you will not be in as much control. Besides, then, you might come across as defensive and dubious.

As a leader, feel free to share your doubts with your employees. Show your human side; show emotions . You don’t need to delve into personal secrets, but stories about what the future might hold for the company, or what is possible for the employees to achieve can work magic. One of the best ones is a story where you talk about the time you messed up, what you did to fix it, and what you learned from it. If you can add humor to it at the right places, this one can be a real gold.

Look. In an attempt to be perfect, we lose the essence of what matters. What makes us beautiful. What makes us us .

So, don’t fret over your flaws. It’s futile.

As a student of literature and film, I’ve always believed in the power of flaws. We call it “fine madness” that grips writers and artists. But, as I became a part of the real world, I realized it is not just the artsy types who are fabulously flawed but everybody who becomes something is imperfect in one way or the other. Cases in point: Steve Jobs, Estée Lauder, Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson, and the list goes on.

So, the problem is not the flaw. If you embrace it, people are more likely to praise you for it. In fact, they will be less suspicious because you’ll seem more human: someone who isn’t perfect but is capable of achieving great things, if given a chance.

And that’s all that you need to demonstrate to your audience: your clients, customers, fans, investors, colleagues, and employers.

And then?

You Will Be Trusted

I don’t know about you, but I don’t strive to be the bestest or the biggest anything. Those, in my humble opinion, are easy targets to achieve.

What is difficult to build is the confidence people place in you, your business, your brand. That’s what I strive for: that my name should not come to people’s mind when someone asks them, “Who do you not trust?”

I don’t want to be remembered then.


The author of the post is Sharmeen Akbani Gangat. She has a bachelor’s degree in Hitchcock and a master’s degree in Harlequins. Trust her to be tucked in bed with three books, a big bag of popcorn, and a slab of dark chocolate on a weekend night.

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