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Cutting Through the BS – Using Language to Establish Trust

July 15, 2021
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Language matters. The adage “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” has never been more important. From politics and the news to marketing and employee communication, the language – the how we say things – is critical to earning trust. This trust translates into direct economic benefits from the ability to charge premium pricing – think Volvo or Mercedes – or the ability to bounce back from crisis – think Tylenol or JetBlue’s ice storm crisis in 2007.  For purpose-driven organizations trust is a critical component of their economic model. So what should the purpose-driven leader be thinking about to make sure they use their communications to earn trust?

In his book, The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics, Michael Maslansky explores ways that an organization’s communications set the stage for earning trust. Let’s look at three (of many others) concepts that relate closely to purpose-driven entities and their efforts to make an impact.

  1. Tell one story,
  2. Show and tell, but mostly show, and
  3. Stand for something.

Tell One Story

Flip-flopper. Untrustworthy. Unreliable. Inauthentic. These are some unflattering terms that come to mind when people think of someone (or organization) who constantly changes their story. Or one who changes the narrative depending on who they are talking to. In the corporate world, this was once common. The public got one version, the employees got another, and investors heard yet a different one.  Not anymore.  If a story is told to one audience – the facts and information need to stay the same for all audiences. How the message is conveyed may change, but the substance cannot. Keeping the facts straight makes sure the message is trustworthy.

Show and Tell, but Mostly Show

When a company says their product is the world’s best do you believe them? No, you don’t, not until they show the proof. Fancy superlatives do not mean anything if they are not backed by tangible evidence. The same goes for dealing with a crisis. Leaders can say they are taking actions, but the communication will be for naught if it is without a clear demonstration of those actions. No one will believe you. Adjectives like “top quality”, “environmentally friendly” or “all-natural” must be associated with actual, measurable product characteristics. Words alone cannot replace actions and facts when it comes to earning trust.

Stand For Something

Luckily, purpose-driven organizations have mastered this concept. If a purpose-driven entity does not have a “purpose” then it probably is not one. For this subset of organizations, the purpose may be known to its founders, leadership and, probably, the employees – but what about all the other stakeholders. Customers? Vendors? Partners? Investors? Landlords? Neighbors? Standing for something helps build trust only if it is communicated to all stakeholders. Standing for something connects with the emotional as well as the rational within your audience. That connection enhances trust and strengthens credibility.

Trust is earned. In communicating with your target audience, language that tells your story clearly and honestly is going to deliver the best results. This earned trust affords substantial economic rewards – from premium pricing to better recovery in the face of a crisis. Every purpose-driven organization should be building its communications to increase trust – trust in the product, trust in its leadership, and trust in the organization.

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