A study undertaken at Princeton University found that people make snap judgements based on their own background and experiences. In other words, they think “What I have experienced is …therefore that person must be like that, too.” For example, how many times have you watched a quiz programme and been angry at a contestant because they don’t know what seems like a simple answer? You are angry because to you the answer is obvious and therefore, in your experience, everyone should know it. You judge them based on your acquired knowledge. Understanding someone else’s experience or point of view is therefore important not just in making a judgement but also if you are in the position of being judged yourself. If you want, or need, to make a good impression, you will need to understand the cultural baggage or inheritance that the person or group that you are meeting brings with them.
TRUST LOOKS DIFFERENT IN DIFFERENT PLACES
I have been to many of the world’s more interesting places but because I have never experienced danger, or even a threat, I don’t feel in danger. However, one 14th July in the centre of Paris, riding the Metro at night I was mugged by a gaggle of multicultural youths and young men. This experience has left me more nervous of being in an underground train in the world’s most romantic city than I am walking on my own through what on the surface should be more dangerous cities and areas. Am I right to be nervous? Statistically, probably not. But my experience says otherwise and it is that that determines my behaviour and reactions rather than logic.
DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER
It is by understanding your potential customers’ (or even those you have and want to keep) experiences that you will be able create a feeling of warmth and trust. And it is often this ‘soft’ skill that is the key to gaining their confidence thereby also gaining their trust and business. But we cannot assume that our experiences and our values are universal and are shared by everyone else. This is certainly not going to be the case. Despite the world getting smaller! This is learning how to read and interpret these cultural differences is a fundamental skill in today’s complex business environment.
It is no surprise that Google had the abstract “Don’t DoEvil” as a company mission statement. But because this is both such a high standard to keep to and also such a moveable feast, (what does evil actually mean? Who is making the judgement? Who is to make the call as to where evil starts? Are all acts equally bad?) eventually the company quietly dropped the motto. Users of social media would berate Google and create virtual uproar whenever Google were perceived to go against this stated aim, (letting governments have access to data being one example). Social media platforms know almost no frontiers and whatever we might do in one culture that might have been almost totally hidden from view only 15 short years ago, can often surface unexpectedly and cause great harm, often far away from the point of origin, today.*
In business, as in life, trust is the glue that binds would-be disparate groups together: employees to employers, customers to companies, voters to parties. It is an ephemeral emotion that can take ages to grow and seconds to shatter. One only needs to read the press to see how far people’s trust in not just politicians, but also other professions that used to be respected, has fallen, and how the new order of the day is scepticism.
A company today needs to recognise that snap judgements are being made and these judgements are faster, and often more long-lasting, than before. Even if the judgement might actually be wrong, that fact does not matter because our potential contact has gone and moved on to someone else. In this case, even if the customer is wrong, they are right and often you will not even know they have seen you!
But there are ways to help companies gain and keep this all important trust and feeling of warmth. Creating this sentiment in the hearts and minds of your target audience is often the difference between success and failure so it really does matter. With a high level of trust comes stronger reputation, more sustainable revenues, greater employee and customer retention and higher growth amongst other benefits. So it really cannot be ignored, or if it is, then it is at the peril of the company that is choosing ignorance.
WHAT TO DO
There are many ways that a company can gain trust and create warmth and most of the techniques will need to be adapted to the specific requirements. But here are a few ideas.
- Keep an honest communication line open
- Learn the cultural differences between you and your audience, and learn how to talk with them.
- Don’t make judgement calls until you know who you are dealing with
- Learn your cultural stand point so you can make a proper comparison between yourself and who you are talking with. If you don’t know who you really are you cannot make a comparison and therefore you will make mistakes.
- Don’t assume everyone shares the same values and cultural mores and references as you do. They don’t.
- You should be seen to be doing the right thing in the eyes of the people that matter – your customers
- Respect the choices made by the culture with whom you are interacting
- Be honest
- Play by the rules in whichever culture you find yourself, and don’t expect everyone to play by your rules. Imperialism is no longer in fashion.