“Trust Me”

JoAnne Norton
JoAnne Norton

These are two of the most compelling words in the English language. As human beings we have an innate urge to trust one another because we know instinctively we need each other for survival. Establishing and maintaining trust is the basis for all relationships in the family and in the business, and what takes a life time to build can be destroyed in the blink of an eye. It is critical to trust and to be trustworthy in your family’s business.

A betrayal of trust can do as much damage to a business as a bad economy, and it can be even more catastrophic to a family. But beware: mistrust can be caused by miscommunication. For example, a CEO we’ll call John might tell his sister Jane one thing and then turn around and tell his sister Jennifer something totally different. If Jane and Jennifer get together and discover that John has told each of them differing stories, then they might find themselves wondering if they can really trust John any more.

Fortunately, if this family has regular meetings, the sisters in our story would be able to ask John face-to face why he had given them different answers. John could then show them that between the time he talked to Jane and when he talked to Jennifer a couple of days later the facts themselves had actually changed. John could explain he had been completely truthful to both of them.

Family meetings provide the opportunity for communication. Good communication requires the courage to ask questions—tough questions that can clarify situations and manage misunderstandings. Owners have the right to know what is going on in their company, and it is up to family members to build an enduring trust based on transparency and a history of fair dealing. So the next time someone says, “Trust me,” answer them with, “Talk to me.”

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