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Building trust: The not-so-obvious key to success

May 2, 2021
When you focus on establishing a culture of trust—with your patients and your employees—you improve your bottom line and your competitive advantage.

Since the day you went into private practice, you’ve endeavored to establish trust in your patients that they’re receiving excellent clinical care from you and all the providers in your practice. The onset of a global pandemic brought the need for trust to a new and unprecedented level. To reopen successfully, you had to establish trust with your employees and your patients (and their families) that your office was physically a safe place to be.

Vaccines notwithstanding, this “trend” of building heightened trust with patients is here to stay. Given that, I want to explore some aspects of trust unrelated to any environmental and procedural changes you’ve made—because, as was succinctly put by Jim Burke, former chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson, “You can’t have success without trust… especially in business.”

One of my favorite books is Stephen M.R. Covey’s bestseller The Speed of Trust, in which he identifies five “waves” of trust:

  • Self-trust
  • Relational trust
  • Organizational trust
  • Market trust
  • Societal trust

In our coaching programs we talk a lot about what these mean, how to establish each level of trust, and how they cascade—and especially why trust actually affects the bottom line of your business.


In a nutshell, self-trust means having the confidence and knowledge to believe the words that you say. For example, when making case presentations to your patients, you’re undoubtedly very confident in your treatment recommendations because you have self-trust in your clinical expertise. You know that what you’re recommending is in the best interest of the patient’s health and well-being. If anything, you’re likely to overexplain the details and end up confusing the patient.

If you don’t come across as confident that you know what you’re talking about, the patient will find all sorts of excuses to not proceed with treatment. At best, they’ll lack confidence in what you’re saying; at worst, they’ll distrust your motives and believe you just want their money.

Now think about how that plays out with your team. For example:

  • Have you ever tried to implement changes and wondered why they didn’t gain traction? You probably didn’t have much self-trust in the idea to start with, and the team could tell.
  • Have you ever assigned a team member to lead a project or team and wondered why it didn’t work out as well as you expected? If a new team leader has had no experience through which to develop self-trust, other team members have no reason to trust that the team leader actually knows what they’re doing, or that the decisions are good ones.

In both cases, just because you said “do it” didn’t mean team members trusted what the outcome would be, and how it would reflect on them. They didn’t follow through, but neither did you—confirming your lack of self-trust in the idea in the first place.

Relational trust

Relational trust between people builds on the self-trust they have in themselves. When others trust that you know what you’re doing and have integrity as a person, they’ll do what you direct them to do. Here are some of the best ways to establish this level of trust:

  • When you say you’ll do something, do it. That’s not just being reliable; it establishes trust that you can be counted on to follow through on what you say. Every day your words, behaviors, and actions either add to, or detract from, the level of trust others have in you, and their belief that you have everyone’s best interest at heart.
  • Give advice only about areas in which you have strong self-trust. Believe what you’re saying, and be confident in your accuracy.
  • Help individual team members develop their own self-trust. Even if they trust you enough to just “go do it,” if they don’t trust in themselves to do it right, they won’t follow through. Be a mentor and coach; help boost their self-trust by supporting them through the learning process.
  • Don’t ever do something for “the wrong reason” (or allow a team member to). Once a person’s motives become suspect—for example, implementing win-lose initiatives, or being out for personal gain—team members will distrust everything the person does. And while a loss of trust can be restored, it’s a long road back.

The economics of trust

Work gets done with and through people. When trust is low—in yourself, in your team, among team members—implementing business-building strategies takes much longer, assuming you get them implemented at all. Cost of implementation goes up, as well as the lost revenue that you would otherwise be producing sooner. The obvious analogy is an office expansion or new build. Unquestionably, the longer it takes, the more it costs and the less you earn during construction.

In contrast, when trust is high, you don’t need all kinds of time-consuming, costly, or labor-intensive check-and-balance processes in place to back up the lack of trust and confidence. More efficient, effective, and profitable processes and strategies get implemented quicker and at less cost—further boosting everyone’s self-trust and your relational trust in one another about how to better serve patients and grow the business.

Building trust isn’t just a trend, it’s a necessity. Fortunately, trust can be taught and learned. Give yourself and your team the benefit of coaching that will help you understand how to build trust in ways that can be measured on the bottom line and leveraged as a competitive advantage. We recommend finding a coach you can trust, someone recommended by other dentists, with a track record that proves success.

JAY GEIER is a world authority on growing independent practices to keep for a lifetime of revenue or sell for maximum value. He is the founder and CEO of Scheduling Institute, a firm that specializes in team training and doctor coaching to help people live up to their full potential and uncover the blind spots that exist that are holding them back from that potential. To find out if your practice suffers from these blind spots that could be killing your practice culture, go to schedulinginstitute.com/DE to request your complimentary analysis.