People are highly skeptical today. As a result, they often assume the worst when dealing with businesses, institutions, or governments. The Language of Trust explains how to overcome such skepticism by communicating with people on their own terms.
This book is for founders, leaders, marketers, public relations managers, copywriters, or anyone else that needs to communicate important information to a skeptical audience. It can help communicators deal with public relations nightmares, social media firestorms, or simply selling the benefits of a product or service.
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1. We’re In The Post-Trust Era
Historically people have become more skeptical as they gain experience in the world, but today skepticism is found everywhere. The decades-long erosion of trust in America’s institutions reached a breaking point in 2008. As a result we’re now communicating in the post-trust era (PTE).
Today, the more a business tries to convey that they are better, safer, or smarter than the competition, the less likely they are to be believed. People have access to more information, they’ve seen behind the curtain, and they no longer want to be told what to think.
Not only do people mistrust companies, but popular culture is actively turning them into boogeymen. If you’re trying to sell something—widgets, ideas, candidates, anything—you face an uphill battle from the start. People no longer believe you, especially if you’re the one in charge.
2. The Truth Will Not Set You Free
Even well-intentioned actions can run into a brick wall of skepticism. Doing the right thing is no longer enough. Today you must also communicate your actions the right way, because ulterior motives are now considered the rule, not the exception.
In the post-trust era, everyone has their own version of the truth. “Your Truth”, or the view of those in your organization, is not what matters to others. Customers, critics, and the general public often have a different truth, supported by a different set of facts and experiences. This is “Their Truth” and it matters most.
Attempting to use facts to convince skeptics of your view often causes more harm than good. Such facts are labeled as “half-truths” whenever they tell a story people don’t want to hear. And rather than pulling a skeptic halfway toward your view, a perceived half-truth pushes them farther away.
If you want the public to be on your side, don’t try to change their view of the truth. Instead, learn to accept the public’s worldview and communicate with messages and symbols that work within it.
3. Become An Agent For The Customer
The language of trust isn’t about you or your business. It is about the audience and their needs, their concerns, their fears, their hesitation, their need for truth and information. To overcome skepticism, all communicators must now become agents for the customer.
Selling is about building trust, then offering the facts in a neutral, non-intimidating way and allowing the consumer to decide. The goal is satisfaction and a trusted relationship, not sales. The only way to appear honest and authentic in the post-trust era is to be honest and authentic.
The obvious drawback to authenticity is your flaws. You can’t hide them anymore. Inconvenient facts about your products are out there, and denying them is no longer an option. Skeptical consumers are already asking friends, scouring the Internet, and doing everything they can to uncover those flaws.
Acknowledging your shortcomings allows you to build trust and credibility. If you’re stuck in the mind-set of generating hype about your products, you risk getting flattened by the opinions of real consumers. But, if you see yourself as an unbiased information provider, you can become part of the dialogue.
4. Use The Four Principles of Credibility
Your audience will be made up of a spectrum of people including optimists, skeptics, and pessimists. Optimists and pessimists have generally made up their mind. Therefore, your overarching goal is to create meaningful dialog with skeptics using the four principles of credible communication: be personal, be plainspoken, be positive, and be plausible.
Be Personal: The first principle of building trust is to accept the fact that selling a product or idea has little to do with your company, what you’re offering, or your ideas. It has everything to do with your audience and what they believe, think, and want.
Be Plainspoken: We used to live in an era of expertise. Audiences were attracted to big words and complex concepts, whether or not they were supported by substance. But today the opposite is true. If I can’t understand what you are telling me, it’s your fault, not mine. If I am confused, I blame you, not myself.
Be Positive: Communicators are often trained to use scare tactics and negative incentives to motivate people to act. But rather than building trust with the audience, negative messages push people away. Many people now equate fear-based selling with liars and cheaters.
Be Plausible: The best sales pitch will fail if your audience doesn’t find it credible. Words like “best,” “most,” “guaranteed,” and “lowest” are now seen as overstated promises. They increase skepticism. Products must offer a clear benefit to customers and customers have to believe that the benefit is real.
5. Build Trust Before Offering Your Solution
The most important first step in every selling conversation is engagement. If a skeptic isn’t willing to listen to what you have to say, then even your best arguments will fail. Therefore it is important to find areas of agreement by: understanding their truth, finding common ground, and asking open-ended questions.
The next step is to give them a reason to believe you aren’t going to simply argue your position or blindly sell your product. The most effective approach is to let them lead. Acknowledge their concerns right up front. Become their advocate even when they might disagree with you or seem to be putting your sale at risk.
Once you’ve established that you are putting their interests above your own, you can pivot the conversation to your product or solution. This context is the crucial step, because it helps establish trust. And it lets them know that what you are selling will actually help solve their problem and be in their best interest.
After The Language of Trust Book Summary
This book summary of The Language of Trust covered five insights for communicating with skeptics. However, it’s not meant to be a substitute for reading the book. That’s because the original text provides a much richer learning experience.
So if you’re a founder, leader, marketer, public relations manager, copywriter, or anyone else that needs to communicate information to a skeptical audience, consider picking up a copy of the book. The Language Of Trust is available from Amazon and Apple Books.