Do You Trust Me? Learn the ins and outs of building trust, believing in others and spotting the marks of a disingenuous dealer.

By Paige Arnof-Fenn

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

One of my senior-year quotes in my high school yearbook was about how I'd rather trust someone and be wrong than never to have taken the risk. More than 23 years have passed since I selected that saying, and I still believe it rings true. The good news is, my gut instincts are generally pretty strong and lead me to great people; the bad news is, even though I'm a bit older and hopefully wiser, I still get burned every now and then.

I'm an optimistic person who truly believes that people want to do the right thing and be successful. But every so often someone proves to be the exception to my rule. Ironically (or maybe not), every time I've experienced a breach of conduct or confidence by a colleague, I was traveling and not in the office when the incident first occurred. I refuse to micromanage fellow seasoned professionals and believe it's impossible and unnecessary to oversee every piece of a successful business--you have to be able to let go and delegate so others can flourish, too.

Trust is an interesting topic because if you tell others you're trustworthy, many people automatically become suspicious. Trust begins at the core, built from the inside out. I always treat my colleagues and clients as if they're trustworthy, and I always try to show them I can be trusted by keeping the promises I make, behaving consistently in my words and actions, and listening to their perspective before making a decision. I try not to take anything personally and always give others the benefit of the doubt.

Here are some of the lessons in trust I've learned over the years:

  • People who previously took advantage of their colleagues will probably try to pull a fast one on you, too. A leopard does not change its spots.
  • Bullies in school turn into bullies as adults, and they're just as insecure as you remember.
  • Listen to your gut, your clients and your references. And don't just listen to what is said, but listen for what is not being said as well.
  • Beware of media buyers whose numbers don't add up and PR people who get more publicity for themselves than they do for their clients.
  • The same people who try to cut you out of a deal are the first ones to call when they need a favor. As my mom says, beware of the casserole ladies who show up the day after the funeral of their best friend.
  • Partner with people who have great reputations. It's a reflection of your brand, your quality and your integrity. Great people surround themselves with great talent, which increases the probability of success.
  • Be original and creative, and always work with other innovative thinkers. There are many copycats and imposters out there who've made a career of corporate identity theft. When you discover people passing off others' work as their own, run--don't walk--in the other direction. Do your own homework to make sure you're working with the real brains behind the deal.
  • Karma catches up eventually, so do the right thing for the right reasons and keep the faith. It usually doesn't take long for the violators' intentions to be revealed and their plans to backfire. You never lose when you take the high road with a long-term perspective.

To grow, you sometimes have to take risks on people, but don't let that scare you off. Even people with great judgment can get fooled some of the time by disingenuous people. But without other people helping you grow and succeed, your company or business idea will never scale.

So do your homework, make the best call you can given the data and facts, and take a chance on a person with a strong moral compass. And if you earn trust from others, you'll be a success. Even more important, you'll be respected, which is one of the most attractive qualities in people--personally and professionally.

Paige Arnof-Fenn is the founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a strategic-marketing consulting firm whose clients include Fortune 500 companies as well as early stage and emerging businesses.

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