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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

How to innovate trust through connection

While not new or revolutionary, innovating trust in this new world of work puts even more of a premium on personal connections.

How to innovate trust through connection
[Photo Source: fizkes/Adobe Stock]

I was born looking for connection—I think most of us are.

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My first connection was broken at birth. I was abandoned as a baby at a Salvation Army Hospital. While I had caregivers and was eventually adopted, my search for connection continued.

As an adult, I was asked to return to the Salvation Army one Mother’s Day and play the harp for the inner-city mothers there, the ones with nowhere to go. This was where I was born, and as I returned to the halls that my mother had walked down, I could feel the fear of being in this dark, cold place of detachment. The lack of connection and loneliness was palpable. I realized how fundamental connection is to trust and security for every human.

One of my first lessons in the value of connection came when I was the CEO of an educational program that ran in schools. I didn’t know how we were going to get the funding we needed to expand. We ran programs that were growing in demand faster than we could fund them. I wore multiple hats since all of our employees were stretched thin.

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One day, I had to run to Staples to buy some folders for our teachers. As I walked into the store, it felt really quiet. The employees were standing at attention at odd angles and there were men in suits wandering the aisles. I didn’t think much about what was going on, but I quickly went to the aisle that had the supplies I needed.

To my surprise, one of the suits followed me, asking if he could help with anything. I told him I had this great program that I was getting supplies for. I had a quick but passionate exchange of information about the details and goals of our program with this complete stranger. As I turned to leave he handed me his card. He was the president of Staples and was touring stores.

I don’t know what the odds were that I wandered into the store at that exact moment, but I do know the connection I made wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t cared to connect. That meeting resulted in the first funding support for what became a national program.

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Building connections online through social media don’t always bring quite the level of personal connection as bumping into a CEO in the aisle of your local store. However, in today’s world of Zoom calls, maintaining a focus on personal connection is more important than ever. Try these three tips next time you want to really connect with a customer or colleague.

1. DARE TO BE AUTHENTIC

Give people a window into who you are, such as what made your day a bit brighter or what challenged you. While online connections can be more shallow and less meaningful, social media also makes it much easier to connect and align with others who have similar interests globally. The possibilities are endless when we prioritize meaningful interactions first and foremost.

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2. LEARN TO LISTEN WITH INTENT

That means focusing on what someone is saying, not just planning what you are going to say next. We all love to be listened to, but being a good listener is a rare skill that is in high demand. If cultivated, it can pay dividends. Make a point to turn off your cell phone and give someone your full attention the next time you want to connect and make a great impression.

3. CONSISTENCY IS KEY

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Follow up if you said you would—you want to demonstrate that you’re reliable. Address people by name and recall details about your conversation. Building connections that last requires time and energy on your part. Make sure the energy you convey is consistent in messaging.

While not new or revolutionary, innovating trust in this new world of work puts even more of a premium on personal connections. Repeating the simple steps of consistently listening and being authentic can have a massive impact on how you are perceived and on the role people want you to play in their lives. Serendipity depends on building a track record of trust with your everyday interactions. You may be surprised at the wealth your connections hold in store for you.


Chief Innovation Officer at the World Humanitarian Forum and Quiet Mark – Innovating for a better, more peaceful world and future.  
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