A few days ago, I was bemoaning the fact that I hadn’t been able to build the kind of trust-based relationship with one of my clients that I usually have. It wasn’t that there wasn’t any sense of distrust between us; far from it. But I just didn’t feel that I could be as clear and straightforward with this individual as I like to be. And it meant that I felt that I hadn’t brought him as much value as I would have liked.
Much to my surprise, my husband (the organic chemist) said: “Oh this sounds like ‘click chemistry.’” What? It turns out that click chemistry is a term that was introduced by the Nobel Prize-winning professor of chemistry K. B. Sharpless (MIT, Stanford, etc.) in 2001 to describe reactions that are: high yielding, wide in scope, create no negative by-products, and that can generate large libraries of useful compounds. Well, the analogy certainly works.
But what does it mean to click with somebody? Psychologists have attributed the click factor to having shared affinities, basically, trusting that one another’s views and behaviours will be consistent and agreeable with our own. But I prefer Stephen M. R. Covey’s thoughtful discussion of the importance of demonstrating both character and competence in building trust in his book The Speed of Trust. Covey points out the trust affects two outcomes: speed and cost. A lack of trust breeds micro-management, bureaucracy, rules, etc., all of which cost money and slow down transaction time.
As business people, I think we tend to focus on the competence-based behaviours that will build trust: delivering results, being accountable, building our skills, etc. However, the character-based behaviours Covey describes are probably much more powerful: talking straight, being transparent always, showing loyalty and creating transparency. If our colleagues and clients consistently experience the latter set over time, trust invariably sets in. But it takes time.
When I thought about the relationship that I described above, the real issue was time. We never had any downtime, meeting only in formal settings, and always with others around. I was in delivery mode during most of our time together, and our relationship was cordial but formal. I would like to think I conveyed those four character-based behaviours, but perhaps they weren’t apparent because of the lack of time together.
The paradox is clear: it takes time to build trust and to get to the point of clicking…. But once having achieved the state, things go so, so much more quickly and easily.
Mary Larson is the co-founder of L&C strategic Advisory Consultants and has experience coaching CEOs and C-suite individuals in how to leverage employee relationships to get more done.