I was caught in a potentially embarrassing situation in an out of town cafe a couple of weeks back. As I sat sipping on a coffee, which incidentally wasn't of the equivalent quality of Jolt or Ceramic, I could not help but hear an interchange at the next table between (what was clearly) a consultant trying to convince a business owner to purchase his services. The consultant, let's call him Mr X, was clearly of a supremely confident and loud speaking persuasion - suffice to say that I wasn't the only one who could hear what he was saying.

The embarrassing moment, for me, came when Mr X leaned back on his chair clasped the back of his head in his hands and said "I am all about integrity" - and I laughed and inhaled coffee simultaneously causing myself to choke.

I laughed because, if someone has to tell you about their position on integrity, invariably they are as much trying to convince themselves than they are trying to convince you. Integrity and trust are some of the most critical aspects of business, but they are hard earned. It is asinine to think you can create integrity by trying to make a convincing argument or a "clever" statement.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review outlined that, in terms of choosing business partners with integrity, "people's accuracy in deciding if another can be trusted tends to be only slightly better than chance". It goes on to say the way we judge integrity may be flawed and that utilising our perception may lead us to draw the wrong conclusions. Our frame of reference or "context" increases the risk for error.


We will evaluate the person we are dealing with, make judgments and determine our level of trust. Our perception of them - and it is perception because we don't and won't see them behind closed doors - will be driven by past interactions (if any), their credentials (which are easily "beefed up") and other intangible things like friendship and even their affiliations to organisations and groups.

It is a complex process. But, ultimately, this evaluation has the potential to put you and your business at risk. And the counterweight to this risk is the "trust" that arises out of the evaluation above.

I have written before about "trusting your gut" and, for what it is worth, the times where my trust has been misplaced is where at some point my gut told me to get out of the relationship but my head wanted to pursue the opportunity.

We will have all, at some stage in our lives or careers, ignored our "radar" and entered into situations, arrangements or relationships where the end result has been less than satisfactory. The most important thing - especially where trust has been broken - is that we maintain our ethical compass when others cast theirs to the four winds. It is true what they say, "it is a dog eat dog world out there" but in the end those who don't value the trust of others will eventually start to gather a different kind of perception.

Then, in the end, they will only be left with themselves to convince.

Russell Bell's Zenith Strategic Solutions is a specialist Wanganui business advice and consultancy practice - 021 2442421.