People Need to Trust You Before They Will Learn From You

You may be the most inspiring, compassionate teacher around but people may not trust you.

I was teaching a coaching class to a group of leaders in a bank. I had to practically bribe someone to volunteer for a demonstration.  Even then, I didn’t feel as if the man was sharing a problem he really needed help with.

I mentioned my difficulties in leading classroom demonstrations to my client. She said most people in her organization did not trust their peers. They felt others will do anything they can to get ahead, even betray trust. So they are reluctant to let anyone know they are having problems.

I began asking about levels of trust in both the company and country cultures before I taught leadership and coaching classes for companies around the world. I found a clear link in the number of people willing to volunteer to how well people trusted each other in the room.

So what does this mean to you as a coach trainer, especially if you are teaching leaders in organizations who might not fully align with coaching principles?

For people to learn, they have to trust you.

There is both a social norm and company cultural norm that affects the level of trust in spite of what you do. You have to be aware of these elements and what triggers distrust so you can increase the level of safety people need to feel before they will come to you with problems.

To create the sense of safety needed for people to be open to you, there are three things you should be aware and in control of:  1) the current level of trust, 2) your emotional-based intention, and 3) the regard you hold for the person or group.

The current level of trust

Don’t expect a level of trust; go in ready to read the levels no matter what you think you already know. Even if the level of social trust in your country, state, or company is high, personal or group trust might be low.  A recent event could have impacted the trust people feel in their lives, with their team, or with you. Don’t forget that some people don’t trust leaders or teachers no matter what!

You need to move your attention into the present moment so you can “read” how safe people feel. If you aren’t “here now” you will not sense a person’s fear until they have already retreated. You have information to convey and a room to manage, but you still have to tune in to the trust levels in the room.

If you are calm, comfortable and present, you will notice when they hesitate or withdraw. You will see opportunities to endorse their capabilities and encourage exploration.

You may also notice how you react to their resistance. You may notice your impatience or urge to fill in the silence. You will notice your feelings of defensiveness when someone challenges you, hopefully before you react. When you notice emotions welling up in your body, choose to feel compassion before you respond. Remember you are there to help them learn, which may be a difficult journey for them. Blend with their energy instead of bumping up against it.

Find a routine that works for you to quickly relax your body and mind when you tense up. Release the tension. Clear your mind. Breathe into your belly. Then you can appropriately adapt your approach without giving up on your intention.

Your emotional-based intention

To build trust, the person must “feel” your intentions are in their best interest while you are teaching and beyond. As soon as you shift your attention to wanting them to learn or behave in a specific way, their brains shut down instead of open up.

Even if a broader goal will be met, the conversation must have an emotional intention focused on them, not you. This intention will help to open the person to the vulnerability they may feel when they begin to talk about their issues. They have to feel that they can successfully implement what you are asking them to learn before they will trust you and themselves enough to try out new behaviors.

The regard you hold for the person or group

An open conversation requires a feeling of mutual respect. If they disagree with what you are trying to teach them, honor them anyway, knowing they are doing their best to survive and succeed with what they know. Hopefully, you can help them realize what else they can know.

Trust may be more difficult to earn with some people than others. Don’t be impatient. Be aware of and calm your own anxiety. Then shift your focus to how delighted you are to have the opportunity to help someone move forward in this chaotic, sometimes scary world. Teaching coaching skills is privilege to be grateful for. Showing people you are honored to serve them is the greatest trust builder of all.