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  • Clare Burlingham

The chemistry of trust

One of the motivations behind our decision to found New Beginnings was a desire to help business become more authentic, more compassionate, more trustworthy. We are firm believers that companies can thrive commercially through effective collaboration with other parties, rather than having to “win” each negotiation. This belief is based on observations throughout our careers, from both personal and commercial experience. Time and again we’ve seen how more effective success can be gained through the development of trusted, long-term relationships between all sorts of partnerships, be it buyer and seller; business and consumer; consultant and client.

While we’ve been utterly convinced of the benefits of a trusted partnership for some time, more recently, we’ve been finding out more about the neurological reasons behind its success. And it is the bringing together of these two elements that is the foundation of our Becoming A Trusted Partner sales training programme.

To reduce a ferociously complex subject to its most simplistic – decision making is largely controlled by a constantly changing cocktail of chemicals. To focus on just three of these: oxytocin – often called the bonding hormone – is produced when our interactions with another person make us feel that we can both trust and be trusted. Similarly, dopamine production is associated with feelings of pleasure. While an increase in cortisol levels occur in situations of high pressure and stress.

The production of oxytocin has been shown to facilitate collaboration. It’s the chemical that helps to bind families and cultures together, creating lasting relationships. Together with higher dopamine levels and reduced cortisol levels, people feel rewarded and bound together. This creates a trust and belief that together they can work to achieve a combined aim.

Even with just a basic understanding of the science, we can begin to see how in some ways, humans are programmed to want to trust each other. By actively behaving in ways that encourage a trusted relationship, we are working in harmony with these chemical instincts.

So, how could we use this knowledge at work?

A Harvard Business Review article from 2017 by Paul J Zak describes how he measured levels of oxytocin in response to various situations both in the lab and in the workplace. The focus of Zak’s work was about how best to encourage employees to feel trust in the organisation they work for. From his research he was able to identify eight key management behaviours that stimulate oxytocin production and generate trust.

While we don’t need to all become neuroscientists, having an awareness of some of this “physical intelligence” is incredibly useful for anyone whose role involves regular interactions with others and particularly people who negotiate to reach agreements, such as salespeople.

Taking the time to understand the links between behaviours – both verbal and non-verbal - and the human responses these are likely to illicit is highly valuable. If we can consciously behave in ways that encourage the building of trust, the more likely we can collaborate successfully, maximising the benefits to both parties.

To quote the US educator and businessman, Stephen R Covey, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

Today, against a backdrop of greater awareness of mental health and wellbeing, it is appropriate that modern business should be conducted with mindfulness. Having an understanding of some of the key behaviours to help us work together collaboratively rather than combatively, can help to achieve this noble aspiration.


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