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Three wars are raging in business: a war for attention, a war for trust and a war for ideas.

If you’re not aware of this, you’re already losing.

The War for Trust

Trusting someone means believing they’re honest and mean us no harm, so that we can deal openly with them; it’s safe to work with them. Confidence and faith are bed fellows of trust: confidence is from the Latin, meaning ‘with faith’, and faith is belief in the unseen. When we trust someone, we don’t demand constant proof that they’re alright.

Millennia ago, when a strange tribe appeared at dawn on the brow of a hill, our default was not to trust them; doing anything else jeopardised our very survival. These days, thankfully, it’s less about life and death, although trusting the wrong people can still hurt us.

How do we build trust through the written word? In two ways: mindset and style.

The trust-forming mindset

Whether you’re writing a blog, article, post, bid or thought leadership piece, you need to adopt a mindset of giving, not getting.

Your aim should be to add as much value as you can to the reader — freely, unconditionally.

You may be thinking ‘But if I do that, I’ll have nothing left to say and they’ll probably run off with my best ideas anyway.’

If you’re an expert in your field, have strong views and confidence in your expertise, you’ll never run out of stuff to say. And, yes, a few readers may nick your ideas and parade them as their own, but my 30-year experience of business tells me that’s rare.

The likelier reader reaction is ‘Wow! If they’re willing to give that much away, how much more do they know?!’

The more value you give your reader, the more they’ll trust you and look out for your words. You’ll become both a source and a destination.

Give vs Get. A simple (but not always easy) shift in mindset.

The trust-forming writing style

One of the biggest hurdles in business/corporate writing is overly formal language. In linguistics this is known as ‘register’, the scale of formality of your writing.

Let’s take ‘money’ as an example.

Synonyms for money put words like dosh, dough, bucks, cheddar, plastic, wonga, lucre, LVs (not luncheon vouchers, but lager vouchers) and spondooliks at the bottom of the register. Words like emolument, remuneration, consideration, legal tender, funds and proceeds sit at the top, while plain English words like pay and cash sit in the middle.

As we move up the register, the words get longer and harder to spell; they also get less concrete and more abstract. We can’t pocket remuneration in the same way that we might trouser a wadge of cash. Abstract concepts demand more processing power from the reader and make them work harder. Formal, high-register words tend to be more solemn and less emotive than their lower register cousins. They’re also more dull. The result is distance between you and your reader.

Mid-register plain English, on the other hand, is vivid, visual, conversational language. In Ronseal terms, it does what it says on the tin. Everyone gets it immediately. We all know what cash is and what it does; it creates a mental image in a way that remuneration doesn’t. Mid-register words have more energy, too: consider the difference between negatively impact and crush, wreck, ruin, hurt, hammer, damage or destroy. Can you hear and feel the difference?

Plain English is connective language; it builds rapport with the reader, brings them in close.

To avoid sounding like a corporate drone or a propagandist, we need to adopt an authentic tone of voice; we need to write more as we speak. Gone are the days of ‘B2B’ or ‘B2C’ copy. Now we’re writing ‘H2H’ — human to human. Sounding like a human being will make your reader feel more connected to you, and connection builds trust.

The bottom-line

Combine a giving mindset, loads of valuable content and an authentic tone of voice to start winning the War for Trust.

Next week: the War for Ideas.

If you’d like to know more about RHETORICA®, my writing workshop that will weaponise your words, then book a 15-minute slot to speak to me. Together we can assess the state of your people’s writing skills and I’ll share some new writing tips with you — whether or not we end up working together. (The only thing I ask is that you complete a short questionnaire, to make sure we’re the right fit and that I can help you; hope that’s OK with you. Here’s the link: Speak to you soon.

And here are the readability stats for this blog:


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