In July of 1999, the New York Times and CBS conducted an interesting survey. They asked, “Of people in general, how many do you think are trustworthy?” The average answer was 30 percent. Then it asked, “Of people you know personally, how many do you think are trustworthy?” The average answer shot up to 70 percent!
Those simple questions illustrate what common sense and your personal experience will confirm. If people don’t know you, they default to not trusting you. “I don’t know him. He might not be honest.”
But if they know you, personally, they default to trusting you. “I know her, and she’s never done anything to make me not trust her. So, she’s probably trustworthy.” Knowing someone gives them the benefit of the doubt. And that human proclivity for trusting people you know creates a powerful role for personal stories that let people get to know you a little.
A great example of this happened in January of 2005 when Procter & Gamble bought the Gillette Company in the largest consumer packaged goods acquisition in history at the time — a $57 billion deal. As you might expect, Gillette employees were naturally concerned about what would happen to their jobs, their pay, and their benefits.
A few days after the deal closed, the CEO of P&G, A. G. Lafley, and several senior Gillette officials, held a huge meeting at Gillette headquarters in Boston’s Prudential Tower. The purpose of the meeting was to put employees at ease over the change in ownership. They invited as many Gillette employees as could fit in the auditorium. One of them was Mike Berry.
The Gillette officials spoke first. In their prepared remarks, they covered a number of reasons why this was a great deal for Gillette employees. “P&G is a market leader in almost every category they compete in . . . they have a 160-year history of treating their employees well . . . they have a very generous profit sharing plan,” etc.
When it was A. G.’s turn to speak, he also had his list of reasons why this would be a good thing for Gillette employees. But before he got to those details, he told the audience a little about himself personally. How he started his career in the military, a little about his family, his hobbies, where he likes to go on vacation, and so on.
When the meeting was over, Mike’s reaction reflected the sentiment of many in the room.
Wow. I know A. G. better after five minutes than I know my leaders after five years!”
And that’s exactly what they needed to know—a little about A. G. personally. After all, what those Gillette employees needed most at that moment was to trust the man in charge of the company that just bought them. A. G. could have told them, “Trust me. We’ll take care of you.” But that wouldn’t have been nearly as effective as letting them get to know him a little, personally.
A. G.’s “a little about me” stories moved him in the minds of his audience from the 30 percent to the 70 percent. And they can do the same thing for you. Earning the trust of a new organization can take months. And, of course, you should invest the time over those months to earn that trust the slow, old fashioned way — by being trustworthy. But sharing personal stories can help you get a huge jump start on that journey. Don’t miss that opportunity.
Source: Lead with a Story: How to Craft Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince, and Inspire, by Paul Smith.
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author of the books Lead with a Story, Parenting with a Story, and Sell with a Story.
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