Are you trustworthy? Do your volunteers and chapters see you as sincere, reliable and involved with them? “Of course!” you respond. “The staff at HQ strives for professionalism and to earn the trust of volunteers and chapters each time we interact with them.”
Let us now ask this in a slightly different way: Given the context of their daily life experiences, what might create the perception, in the mind of a volunteer or chapter executive, that you, or another staff at HQ, are not trustworthy?
To answer this, I will present three examples, utilizing snippets from a day-in-the-life of a volunteer or chapter executive, to illustrate how trust can be unintentionally undermined.
Why Jane doubts your sincerity
Jane is the chapter executive for the Terabitha Chapter (which is famous for its annual bridge building contest). On Tuesday morning, she called customer support about a software issue. After numerous rings, her call was put on hold with a message that began, “Due to high call volume…” and concluded with, “…your call is very important to us.”
“My call is important? Do you sincerely expect me to believe that?” Jane muttered to herself.
That afternoon, she called to find out about a major policy change under consideration by the national Board. Local members were concerned and she had been trying, for the past week, via email and unanswered calls, to get more information. Finally, she gets you on the phone and you tell her, “I sincerely apologize for not getting back sooner, we’ve had a zillion calls about this policy issue…” Jane mutters under her breath, “yeah, due to high call volume.”
You hear the agitation in Jane’s voice so you try to reassure her, “Jane, I value your opinion as I do all the chapter executives.” At that moment, Jane is having a wicked bad flashback to her earlier call: all she hears is, “your call is very important to us.”
Jane, for easily understandable reasons, begins to doubt if anyone at HQ sincerely cares about her opinion.
Why Hank thinks you are not reliable
Hank is a volunteer with the Hyboria Chapter and serves as the Chair of the National Membership Committee. Wednesday morning, he has a doctor’s appointment scheduled for 11:30. He knows, from prior experiences, the doctor won’t actually see him at 11:30. It will be more like 11:54 or sometime after noon. As he sits in the waiting room, rereading the July/1995 edition of Sports Illustrated for the 37th time, he recalls how, last week, the cable guy showed up 90 minutes late. “People aren’t reliable,” he thinks to himself.
That afternoon, he checks his email. You had promised him the agenda and support documents for the upcoming committee meeting by COB of that day. He calls and you apologize. You go on to explain, “The materials are almost ready. Unfortunately, there was an urgent request from a Board member yesterday – high priority – so I was pulled in to work on that. I will have your materials to you no later than tomorrow afternoon.” That night, you work late so you can deliver the materials first thing in the morning. It was delivered late, but heck, it was just a little bit late. Under the circumstances, you feel okay about that.
Hank, meanwhile, has mentally put you into the same category as his doctor and the cable guy. “HQ staff aren’t reliable,” he thinks to himself.
Why Harmon thinks you are not involved with him
Harmon is the new staff exec at the Narnia chapter. It is his first job in associations, a lot of issues and problems are brand new to him.
Friday morning, he drops his car off for repairs. He has a new mechanic, Sal, who was recommended by a neighbor who said, “I totally trust him.” Sal greets Harmon and says, “tell me everything you can think of about the problem.” He listens without interrupting. Then he starts asking questions, lot of questions. Finally, he says, “Chances are it is one of two issues. The only way I can be sure is if…”
That afternoon, Harmon picks up his car – it runs perfectly. He reflects on Sal’s ability to listen, and realizes it is the ability to ask lots of questions, the process of getting involved, that makes Sal a good mechanic. That’s why his neighbor trusts him completely.
Meanwhile, Harmon has been struggling to get up to speed on association type issues. He calls you for advice and begins the conversation by unloading all the background details. You realize his questions can be easily answered with a series of FAQs you have written. Besides, your schedule is packed and you conclude that a long conversation with Harmon is not the most efficient use of your time. You politely cut the conversation short, directing Harmon to the FAQs. You hang up, rush to your meeting, thinking, “It would have been nice to chat, but that’s why we have FAQs…”
Harmon, meanwhile, is comparing his experience with you to the conversation he had with Sal the Mechanic. Unlike Sal, you didn’t bother to ask a lot questions, you didn’t take the time to get involved. Harmon shakes his head and realizes he’d rather talk to his mechanic than to you. He picks up the phone, makes a call and says, “Hey Sal, what do you know about associations?”
The Bottom Line: To build trust with another human being, you need to consider the context of that person’s daily life. Everyday, your volunteers and chapter executives encounter and assess the trustworthy of a variety of people. Those experiences create a filter through which they learn to trust, or distrust, others…and that includes you. The more you understand their context for assessing trust, the more success you will have.