Brennan Jacoby compares trust with fresh air: both become visible only when the atmosphere is polluted. The business philosopher from London has also talked about this at Dmexco. His message: Managers need to learn to understand relationship management as the job par excellence. The benefit of this is priceless. Because products or services that become familiar make them unique and unmistakable.
LEAD: Today, companies often employ their own philosophers. Why?
Brennan Jacoby: Philosophers transfer the wisdom of the past centuries to the present day. By doing so, they help people to live wisely. Philo in Greek means love, Sophia wisdom. In the digital age we are swimming in information and knowledge – but we have little idea how to handle it. The companies are very smart managers, but they are fully occupied with questions about their business. Digitization with constantly new technologies requires all their attention. Under pressure, however, it is difficult to keep an eye on all acting forces. That’s why I help managers think carefully and ask the right questions so they can be better prepared to deal with change and restore lost confidence.
LEAD: How does one recognize that the trust has become less?
Jacoby: On the one hand, this is demonstrated by studies such as the Trend Barometer from Edelman, which has been inspecting trust annually across all countries since 2001. But we also recognize it only because so much is currently talked about trust. As Annette Baier states in her essay “Trust and Antitrust”, we presuppose trust just as much as fresh air. Only when we realize that it is dirty, we realize that it was fresh before. The level of trust in everyday things is great. How we trust a pilot to fly us safely to our destination, or a doctor, to heal us. Only when doubts arise distrust. The trust is no longer there. We feel less secure.
LEAD: What’s the cause?
Jacoby: Today we have so much access to information as never before. We constantly hear about digital media and platforms about scandals and violence from around the world. Therefore, mistrust has never been more global than it is today. Previously, it was rather local: In the days of the GDR, there was mistrust of employees of the Stasi, in the US, the distrust of the Great Depression reached a peak. Compared to today, however, there was much more grounding in objective truths that helped to get along in life and get some grounding. The many voices on social media and technologies that manipulate truths make it difficult to tell apart what is true and what is wrong.
Philosophical thinking: Check your own biases
LEAD: KCan business managers trust in philosophical thinking?
Jacoby: In my work with the managers, it’s about questioning your own thinking. This includes uncovering preconceptions and checking one’s own biases to build trust. For example, I think a colleague mistrusts me, but I do not realize he just wants to help me. I can only get behind it by taking the risk of being disappointed or hurt. If this did not exist, trust would not be relevant. Trust is not blind, but it is becoming more and more a bold choice because we can gauge the value because we know what it means to be vulnerable to others. In times of fake news, companies need to ensure consumers have a degree of confidence in them. For example, you could develop technologies for the user that help to verify the source and detect false positives.
LEAD: Can you trust such an anonymous impersonal entity as a company?
Jacoby: First of all, you have to understand how trust comes about and how it works. Confidence often means the expectation and confidence that someone will do, especially on a moral level. But if the opposite happens and the company damages its confidence in a scandal, it apologizes to the public and declares that it is taking steps to ensure that it never happens again. The more it deals with the moral violations of the rules and values of this scandal and apologizes for it, the better. The consumer recognizes the values and character of the company through this explanation and feels understood in his anger. He then trusts that the company will keep its promise and act accordingly. For companies, it pays to earn the trust of customers: products or service that they become familiar with make them unique and unmistakable.
LEAD: How many times can a company break trust?
Jacoby: When it comes to a long-lasting relationship, the level of trust is very high. If it is broken, it does not suddenly sink to zero. By showing that it is interested in the relationship with the customer and proves to be reliable, the company returns step by step to the previous level. The company does not have to do everything perfectly for that, but overall it just has to go in the right direction. Then the consumer can reopen and become vulnerable – that’s what trust is all about: it runs the risk of being disappointed.
Trust is relationship work
LEAD: Is there a golden rule for a company to establish and maintain a trusting relationship with customers and employees?
Jacoby: Managers need to understand relationship management as the job par excellence. So far, the focus has been on sales, product innovation and content creation. The cooperation on the topics is rather a secondary idea. But as leaders begin to understand relationships with employees and customers as their work, their priorities will shift automatically. If they do not know the people they deal with on a daily basis, their work can not be good enough. It’s the same with the customers: CMOs can easily ignore their opinions about the consumer. But when they find out what’s going on in the market and what their customers are doing, they can build better relationships with them. The key to building trust is that we care about our relationships and value them as much as our product.
LEAD: What skills do managers need?
Jacoby: empathy, curiosity and the ability to ask good questions. This ensures that managers do not approach their customers with preconceived ideas. It is better to ask her what interests her own company. In doing so, they should use authentic questions and then listen carefully and thoughtfully. In the end, they will pay more attention to consumers than before. After all, I somehow disappoint someone I know better than someone does not care. About these small steps the company shows that it is up to the consumer. And trust can flourish.
LEAD: How do you ask good questions in a philosophical sense?
Jacoby: If managers want to make a decision to invest, they need to ask questions about the hidden motives behind them. The questions that they have to ask themselves in order to make the hidden visible are, for example: what happens in the background when we want something: Is it because the business is doing really well or because I want it? Through this thinking, one can look at things from a meta-level – and ultimately make better decisions from an overall entrepreneurial perspective.
LEAD: Do you have an example from practice?
Jacoby: One of my clients is a big media company. As their task, the executives see it, as well as their daily job to create a vision. First and foremost, it is about making the hidden issues visible and uncovering connections through the right questions. To this end, we jointly identified five challenges that relate to organization, leadership culture or the team.
We then considered these in detail – and placed them in a larger context. In this way, we were able to attribute an uncomfortable mood in the team, in which our colleagues distrust each other, to the – professionally important – secrecy of sensitive sources of information. Recklessness is naturally counterproductive to trust. Once the connections have been uncovered and the contexts established, the problem solving is done. Philosophers distinguish between three scenarios: problems that you can control, problems that you can not control but influence, and those that can not be controlled and therefore must be accepted.
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