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How Can Entrepreneurs Find Trustworthy People?

Men shaking hands

Trust is an internal barometer that each of us has calibrated over time — yet we sometimes end up disappointed and frustrated with people we thought we could trust. With human behavior as unpredictable as it is, how much trust can you place in trust itself?

It all depends on what you base your trust of others trust upon. A few basic factors have withstood long-term observation, and knowing these factors will help small business owners find people they can depend on as they grow their business. No empire was ever built by one person alone.

Why Depend on Others?

Trusting others is an essential skill that small businesses must employ in order to grow. Even the most vigorous, hands-on owner will find it impossible to scale a business if he or she continues to manage alone. Mistakes are most often made by worn-out, mentally exhausted managers, all while there is ample help available. There are a few basic reasons why relying on others is essential for small business owners.

Share the Burden

People need to rest, and no one can be in two places at once. The most successful small business owners have learned to set aside the fear that comes with assigning power to others, and they delegate responsibilities in a way that benefits everyone involved.

Improper delegation results in work being performed poorly (or not at all), which means exasperation for you. Be sure to document in great detail the process you take to achieve a certain outcome. That way, when you hand off the assignment to someone else, he or she has a protocol to follow. Just because it’s second-nature to you doesn’t mean that it is to anyone else.

Delegation also does not mean laissez-faire behavior; ongoing monitoring and reports from your delegates allow you to maintain a bird’s-eye view of your operations without micromanaging, which could turn off potential collaborators.

Enlist Professionals

If you employ others, shifting payroll responsibilities to a professional payroll service can be a blessing. Not only do they make sure your employees get paid, but they can put everything in order so that much of the work is already in place for yourself, your business and your employees once tax season comes.

Speaking of taxes, as an entrepreneur, you probably know that the tax code can be incomprehensible at times — and yet you must nonetheless abide by its parameters or face burdensome penalties. Before you end up on the wrong side of an audit, secure a trusted tax attorney.

Likewise, you should enlist the services of an accountant to keep your books in order. Sometimes it takes an outside eye to notice problems in the numbers of your business.

These are all instances where finding professional help you can trust can free up more time for you to do what you do best — run and grow your business.

The Factors That Determine Trustworthiness

Now that you understand the value in allowing others to complete work and grow your small business, you should take heed of common misconceptions about how to source trustworthy help.

Not surprisingly, they revolve around a number of key personal values and our response to them.

1. Good, Evil, and the Question of Integrity

Integrity stands as one of the pillars of most industries. A cursory search of websites in just about any industry — law, accounting, finance, sales, and so on — will turn up “integrity” in mission statements and core values. Integrity is a great value to have. The issue with integrity as a proxy for trustworthiness is that, paradoxically, it does not remain stable in every context. In other words, past demonstrations of integrity do not guarantee future instances of integrity.

Despite what comic book superheroes might say, the mind does not determine actions as inherently good or evil. Instead, a person generally weighs decisions based on short-term and long-term gains, and the interplay between those poles. Which outcome will a person decide? That depends on the context and what’s at stake.

A shocking 90% of people will act dishonestly if they believe they will benefit from their dishonest actions and not get caught, according to a Harvard Business Review study. Moreover, these same people will rationalize their decision-making while criticizing others for acting in the same fraudulent manner.

For this reason, reviewing websites and testimonials won’t tell you the whole story about a person or company. Find out how a person responds not only in times of success, but also in times of adversity and challenge. If an individual is quick to blame others, takes criticism begrudgingly, or agrees to terms but changes them on the fly, this person may not be the best person to trust with responsibilities.

2. Confidence vs. Competence

Competence is a virtue in every job profession. We all want to work with and employ people who fulfill their job duties diligently. Confidence, though, is more complicated, and it has little to do with whether or not the job is done right. Confidence can mask incompetence. A job done poorly with a sense of confidence is still a job done poorly.

Inconsistency in stories, terms, or approaches can signal a dishonest partner who uses an air of charisma to detract from other areas. Furthermore, falsely confident people often refuse to take personal responsibility and will blame anyone and everyone but themselves. Confidence is evident right away, but competence reveals itself over time.

3. How We Handle Power Says a Lot About Us

The old adage that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” can be tweaked to mean that, as people gain more power (or believe they have gained more power), the less likely they are to act in a trustworthy manner. Though socioeconomic status and wealth are often indicators of a person’s power, the mere implication of superiority can change a person’s decision-making ability.

When deciding whether or not to trust a person, consider how the individual treats his or her smallest clients and entry-level employees as a litmus test for general trustworthiness. The best leaders value subordinates and treat them with respect.

4. Can You Spot a Lie?

Wouldn’t you love to know immediately if a person lied to you? What if you could discern a person’s trustworthiness simply by studying a single movement of the eye, twitch of the hand, or curling of the upper lip? Sadly, these divining skills aren’t backed by any repeatable evidence, at least not when studied as individual behaviors.

However, the aforementioned Harvard Business Review study, performed by scientists from Cornell University and MIT, did find a quartet of behaviors that, when performed all together, strongly correlate to distrust, disinterest, and a penchant for self-serving behavior. The cues are:

  • Face touching
  • Hand touching
  • Arm crossing
  • Leaning away

Of course, we’ve all done these things at one time or another. But interestingly, the study found that people inherently understood that these four cues signaled a lack of cooperation or trust, even if they could not explain why. People who performed all four actions frequently were also the ones least likely to cooperate with their partner in the study.

This speaks to the value of your own intuition. Going with one’s gut might seem counterproductive or too subjective for the business world, but body language has shown over and over to provide a relatively accurate benchmark for snap judgments. Sometimes, the best method is the simplest one.

As a small business owner, your resources are limited, and that’s why you must turn to others. However, no matter how busy you are, there are basic ways for you to assess potential teammates that won’t add to your burden. Being conscientious about these issues is essential to the growth of a small business.

How has your attitude changed toward trustworthiness? Explain in the comments section below.