2018.05.13 Building Trust

"Let's meet for a cup of coffee."

If you are from a task oriented culture, such an invitation may lead you to assume that it is a good idea to bring your papers/ slide deck/ proposal... to the meeting, because if this is not for discussing the reason you contacted this person, why would you spend time together?

If you are from a relationship oriented culture, you might not even consider bringing anything work related to the meeting, because although this person technically is somebody who could further your project, unless you know each other, how would you evaluate if you can trust the other person?

When it comes to building trust, the sixth concept in the illustration, according to Erin Meyer both Denmark and USA tends towards evaluating the other person based on task related behaviors.

"In a task-based culture, such as the United States, the UK, or Germany, trust is built through work: We collaborate well, we like each other’s work, and we are fond of each other—so I trust you.
In a relationship-based society, such as Brazil, China, or India, trust is built by weaving personal, affective connections: We have laughed together, have shared time relaxing together, and have come to know each other at a deep, personal level—so I trust you."

As can be seen from the HBR quote above, the personal aspect is not totally out of the equation. If you don't like somebody, trust can be hard to come by - even in task based cultures.

But trust is based mainly on delivering on promises related to the work we do together. It is not build on partying together or going on trips together or attending each other's children's weddings.

I list out these types of events because although people in task based cultures assume that they are very impersonal in their business dealings, we do invest a lot in interpersonal trust through attending conferences, sharing meals, inviting people to the company box for the games...

Yes, part of this is profiling the company as successful by having means to pick up the check for such events, but time spent together discussing anything but work does breed affection.

What is some times underestimated is that trust is not built entirely by the two parties alone. Trust is related to whether you will be good on your word. If you can break your word with impunity because there are no social structure to encourage otherwise, personal trust is much more important.

In countries where the rule of law resides and impartiality of the judiciary can be assumed, we "just" need to write a contract, and I can assume that that sets up how we will do business together.

Where this is not the case, getting to know each other and having sponsors that will vouch for your honesty is much more important.

Although both Denmark and USA are task oriented, part of the reason people answer like that in these questionnaires is because they normally anticipate with reasonable accuracy how the other party in business will behave. When Danes and Americans make international business deals and realize that their predictions are not as accurate, suddenly they become a bit more relationship oriented as well. This even applies when doing business in other task based trusting cultures

Plan a little extra time to build connections when you do business abroad.

Adding to the confusion is how trusting people generally are; an issue not discussed in the Culture Map. Danes are among the most trusting people in the world - based on data from World Values Survey.

As a general rule, Danes start out with assuming people can be trusted - that there is already a positive balance on the "goodwill account" in relationships with other people. Combine that with little effort on praising (see Feedback) and we may totally fail on the difficult task of building up that balance before we give direct feedback or enter into confrontational negotiations.

Adding even more to the confusion is another parameter that won't stand out unless you interview broadly: That managers trust more based on competency while rank and file employees are more looking for likability. According to research by Innovisor, across the world, most people will rather work with a below-average-capable but likable person than with a super competent jerk.

So don't send your brilliant jerks out to manage your foreign subsidiaries, as competent as they may be (and as nice as it may be to have them working somewhere else.)