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How to build trust in the virtual world

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

This is an opportunity for values that can change the world

“Do you trust me?” Avengers, End Game — Marvel Studios & Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

“Trust is like a piece of paper. Once it is crumpled it can never be perfect again.” ― Auliq Ice

When I heard this adage I thought, yup that is true, a piece of paper can never be smooth again. However, for this to be true in our daily lives we first have to believe something — like trust — can be perfect.

I am prone to believe, like many, that perfection is an unattainable goal.

However exhibiting integrity and walking the talk — doing what we say we will — consistently is something we can do to build trust and we should do it as much and as often as possible.

Iron Man and Captain America lost trust in each other, but were either of them truly untrustworthy? Or did they just each believe in something different, so their individual values did not align? They started to lead different teams, but when they needed to work together, how did they trust one another? How did they align values again?

. . .

Are you a “high truster” or “low truster”?

It was during my executive MBA ethics class that I first heard this question. Are you a high truster or low truster?

A HIGH TRUSTER was defined as someone who immediately trusts someone, they believe in the good and they trust the person they have met. So you start at 100% and only lose trust if you become untrustworthy.

A LOW TRUSTER was defined as someone who does not trust everyone right away but takes time to build trust by getting to know someone. So you start at 0% trust and build up to — likely don’t ever reach — 100%.

The professor asked us to raise our hands, one group, after another. It felt like the results aligned pretty clearly to the people who were transparent about their lives and experiences versus those that were not.

There was inevitably a lot of debate that it was actually more accurate to state those that trust and those that do not — as opposed to “low trusters” — because starting at 0% and proving oneself is like trying to convince a skeptic that the world is round!

Then he asked: “Who do you think has the best intuition on whether they can trust someone or not?” Again he asked us to raise our hands. So which do you think it was?


And why? Because if we trust everyone immediately upon meeting them, that means we have trusted those that are devious and dishonest and thus, have been let down or disappointed so many times that we have refined our intuition and know almost immediately if we would trust someone or not.

This TED video illustrates why first impressions are hard to change and why. It is dependent on our personal experience, the perceived importance or relevance of our first interaction, and the subsequent interactions. So if the first impression fails? Then what?

. . .

How we trust

FOUNDATION: The foundation of all trust is based on past experience, our interaction, our first interaction, with someone. If we don’t know someone personally then this can be established through their reputation. If someone already knows us by reputation they are more likely to trust us.

Establishing that trust as a new leader or new brand is what entrepreneurs and business owners have always struggled to achieve, but as leaders take over remote teams it becomes relevant to everyone. And once established it is crucial to maintain that reputation.

BUILDING BLOCKS: If our values are aligned as a leader to a company, as a team to a leader then we are more likely to trust each other. That does not mean we must work with exact replicas of ourselves, innovation comes through diversity.

Values are exhibited through confidence, integrity, competence, and transparency. People are more likely to increase their trust in us when we are walking the talk and illustrating that we live our values every single day, this is how to fast forward to trust.

MAINTENANCE: Often trust is lost when there is a lack of consistency, i.e. if someone treats us badly and with respect in equal measure, how can we know what to expect of them each time we interact with them?

On the other hand, if someone is consistent and stands by what they espouse, then you can be assured that they will continue to act in a consistent manner. In dating, this is often the worst mistake we make, expecting that someone will “change” from the person they were on the first date!

When we lose trust

High truster or low truster, when we lose the trust we often find it difficult to rebuild it. Maybe it will never be 100% again but can we live with 80%, the smoothed out crumpled paper?

When brands lose trust, we can lose customers for life. Conversely, if we openly admit the mistake and rectify the situation, then with an exceptional customer experience that same customer can become loyal and an advocate.

The minute that a leader goes back on their values and stops “walking the talk”, then trust is broken. Having said that, I have also seen leaders get that trust back and rebuild it through increased transparency and honesty.

Sure the paper may never be perfect again once crumpled. But if we can still write on it, it still serves its purpose right?

There is elegance and vulnerability and humanity in imperfection. Trust is the foundation of relationships but it can also be imperfect and in that imperfection, there is an opportunity to build it back even stronger, and with transparency and openness and honesty it can be re-established.

. . .

Where we can build trust today

Now, this was based on the days we could meet people in-person when we could sense their trustworthiness from in-person interaction. Now what?

Trust is the foundation of all we do as leaders, as partners, as colleagues, as friends, and as human beings. So where can we build trust when we are unable to meet in person?


I used to check LinkedIn before going into a meeting with colleagues, even several years ago. To know who they were, what they looked like, what their experience or opinion was. The speakers for the recent TinyBox Academy conference were all brought together through LinkedIn.

Professionally, first contact, first impression, first trust is built on LinkedIn. What do they talk about and what expertise do they share? From that, book a Zoom call and we can quickly solidify the first impression!

LinkedIn Thought Leadership: The PROs

Pro #1 > We already have a first impression based on what they want us to perceive about them

Unlike in-person meetings where we literally know nothing about the person and open with “what do you do?” we already know all this information from their profile page.

The photo, headline and summary at a minimum tell us if they look friendly. what their interests are, what their expertise is, what they want to be contacted for. So we are already far more prepared before we make contact.

Pro #2 > We can understand their motivations, passions and purpose based on the content they share

Unlike in-person meetings where we need to have lots of conversations about different topics to get an understanding of their perception of the topic, we can find everything they like, comment, or share on LinkedIn.

This allows us to determine if we have common interests and if there are possible opportunities for collaboration and if we can add value to each other through connection.

Pro #3 > We can reach global contacts and experts online and they are right there to contact 1–2–1

Unlike conferences or meetings in-person we can directly contact anyone across the globe, right away! We can send a personal message to anyone on LinkedIn — especially if we have a premium account.

Of course, I do not suggest just reaching out arbitrarily, having contacts in common or asking for an introduction gives a person far more credibility and integrity!

LinkedIn Thought Leadership: The CONs

Con #1 > That gut feeling is not accessible, that intuition that we can get when we first meet someone in person

This is inescapable, there are so many subconscious action-oriented triggers that can help us determine if we trust someone and these are inescapably missing when it comes to online interaction.

However, a zoom call, seeing someone’s facial reactions can have a great impact on the feeling of connection and trust.

Con #2 > Anyone can contact us, the flipside of global reach is that we end up with a lot of spam in our inbox

This is easily manageable, even if it is rather annoying. LinkedIn has the functionality to ignore requests and messages, as well as to report people who are contacting us with the “I don’t know this person” button to press.

I strongly advise using that button, and not accepting everyone that contacts us. this stops these salespeople from having access to our networks as “second-level” contacts.

Con #3 > Perception is not always reality and the profile and content can be misleading

This can be disappointing but no more so than the false representation on other social media platforms.

However, I find that it is harder to be false on LinkedIn primarily due to the work experience and recommendations sections, where it is clear to see what someone has done, studied and achieved, as well as others' perceptions of them.

. . .

But the pros outweigh the cons in my experience. I have had calls with new connections and established within half an hour if they are kindred spirits! I can bring experts from anywhere in the world to virtual events, that provide real value for my network, and this would have been impossible without the move to virtual.

It is highly likely we will continue to work remotely and lead virtually in the coming years, so let’s realign our values, let’s allow some room for 80% perfection, and let renewed consistency in behaviours create renewed trust.

If Iron Man and Captain America can trust each other again with the joint goal of saving the universe, then surely we can too.

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