Mikael Toivio — September 18, 2018

The Meeting Room’s Sound of Silence

Trust between people is an ON/OFF switch. It’s not a damn slider you can have set at 86%, and If I give you a trustworthy blueberry pie, goes up to 92%. No. It’s an ON/OFF switch and I do my best that the people I work with have it switched ON all the time.

I’m writing this because I constantly see the sound of silence happening around me – silence that tells me there is something wrong. It can happen with anyone, from internal teams to clients and other consultants. By silence I’m not talking about lies which screw people over, but rather about being afraid to accept that something is not perfect.

I should be perfect – I can’t make mistakes

These silent moments have made me struggle in the past. The big problem was that I tried to present myself as this perfect consultant who never makes mistakes and knows all things about everything. If I made a mistake I would try to hide it by all means necessary.

Unfortunately, I was just adding an extra layer of difficulty and stress by not being completely honest with the people I worked with. I was afraid of rejection for not knowing everything. I made mistakes and honestly said I’m sorry. After a while I realised I was doing something wrong.

Silence in the meeting room

This would be me. Listening to the silence – can you hear it?

It’s easy to believe that having all the answers will make others think more highly of yourself. In reality, you will fall short long term. Being open and transparent will help you build trust and a healthy relationship with anyone.

6 years ago, if you had asked me if I can create something I have never done before, I would have simply answered “Yes, I can get it done”. Right after an awkward moment of silence. 9/10 times I was able to achieve what I promised. But then there was that one damn time when I wasn’t, even though I had promised I would.

Not being able to do everything people ask from you is a small problem compared to losing their trust. You get caught once trying to sugarcoat your abilities and the person on the opposite side of the table will question all your abilities from that moment forward. Remember, trust is an ON/OFF switch, and it’s really hard to set it back ON.

I’m not perfect – I will do my best

If you now ask me if I can create something I have never done before, I will simply give you the honest truth: “I have not done this before, but I will look into it and get back to you, sound good?”.

I can’t remember a case where a client began to question my abilities after hearing the honest truth. Instead, they have thanked me for being honest, and I believe in most of the cases this instance has made the relationship stronger. Sometimes I’ve even seen smiles because they finally feel like they have someone in front of them who they might be able to trust.

Helsinki Design Week Open Studios at Evermade

Trust comes in many forms. We opened our doors to strangers as part of the Helsinki Design Week 2018 Open Studios event.

Why I care about trust, and why you should, too

Trust is powerful. Dealing with clients who trust me, I am in full control to achieve the desired results and more. When everyone in the project team is being honest, you will have a better understanding of people’s abilities and weaknesses. When you know people’s abilities, you can emphasize their knowledge and make better decisions together.

Having just one dishonest person in the project group increases the risk of negative setbacks. The project’s end result will almost always suffer.

Trust is also a great tool for sales. Just a reminder: if you are selling to a trusting client, then you’d better be thinking about what you are selling from the buyer’s perspective. Some people might think that once you gain trust you can just abuse it to gain personal wealth. NOT OK, and you’re back to listening to the sound of silence in no time.

Breaking the sound of silence?

If I walk into a meeting room full of people and I hear the sound of silence, I try to open up the discussion and put everything onto the table. It’s not the easiest discussion to start. There isn’t a right or a wrong way to do it – the most important thing is to start learning by listening to the silence and the meaning of it. Sometimes it’s just a pause, but other times it can give you the most crucial information.

Each time I have opened the discussion, it has given a very positive spin to the whole project, and it has definitely helped us accomplish better end results.

My point is to listen to the silence. Do your best to speak up when it happens. Be honest – you and your partners will thank you for it.

Mikael Toivio

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