Sim Sekhon: Building trust in a sceptical world

Facebook has dropped an almighty clanger and Mark Zuckerberg has appeared before Congress explaining and apologising for data breaches. The fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal has seen people leaving the social media platform in droves, and as individuals, we’re all busy trying to fathom which permissions we’ve given which apps, who knows what about us, and what they might be using it for.

These are unsettling times. The press is warning us of potential cyber attacks from Russian hackers while across Europe and the UK, businesses are examining the data they store as they prepare for GDPR. We live in a sceptical world, an era of fake news and data mining, but the Facebook issue has exposed a very human failing – even though we know the value of data, we like to trust people.

We want to trust because we’re social animals, and no relationships – business, social or personal –  can survive without trust. A world without trust would be a world of corrosive cynicism where nothing could be built.

Millions of us have Facebook accounts. We’ve tolerated the advertising and ignored the rubbish, where we can. We’ve enjoyed the convenience, the social interactions and the connections it has created, but, sadly, it seems that the giant wasn’t worthy of our trust. Now, Facebook and other social media providers are busy trying to reassure their users that they’re not the bad guys and that they are worthy of our trust.

This isn’t a new thing for businesses. The banking sector came up against the same issue a decade ago and has struggled to regain respect and credibility. At the opposite end of the scale, tradesmen fight a constant battle to juggle a fluctuating workload and stick to promised schedules. In the property rental sector, the language reflects the bad apple, not the majority, but we’re still more used to the media mentioning rogue landlords and dodgy tenants. Unfortunately, bad press, even where it’s not warranted, tends to leave a stain.

A new database has just been launched. It’s a tool for local housing authorities in England to keep track of rogue landlords and property agents and to help drive up standards. But there’s a problem: it looks like the public won’t be able to access the information. This half-measure will do little or nothing to help the vulnerable tenant. If you can’t check the database, how do you know if your landlord is on it? A measure that could have helped to build public trust in the sector won’t.

But we’re not helpless. Trust isn’t something you can buy, and it isn’t something that’s magically granted. It’s earned. It’s earned by being honest, loyal, competent and reliable. If you’re consistent with those qualities, trust will follow.

If a landlord says he’ll sort a problem ‘this week’ just to keep a tenant happy, but doesn’t because he can’t find a contractor, he’s doing nothing to build trust. If he says he’ll confirm a date as soon as possible, does so and ensures the job’s been carried out to the tenant’s satisfaction, he’s building confidence. Trust is perhaps the most valuable business asset, but it doesn’t expect miracles. It expects accountability.

We can all be accountable. We can keep our obligations, give updates, deliver on genuine promises, address problems constructively and respect those we deal with.  I don’t believe we should put up with a culture where there is suspicion, cynicism and mistrust when our everyday words, actions and decisions can build something much more positive.