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Growing Federal Contracts: The Seven Drivers Of Trust

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Win federal contracts, Brene Brown, trusted relationships

This post is based on the extraordinary talk, "The Anatomy of Trust" by Dr Brene Brown.

Understanding trust gives us a way to more deeply examine and talk about what we need. When we are uneasy about a relationship, when the sales aren't coming, when your intuition tells you your contract is at risk, here’s a definitive gut-check to consider very specifically where your relationship is not working well. That also gives you a more specific starting point for what may be a difficult conversation, but one that truly matters.

Trust is built one small moment at a time. It's not a switch you can flick on or off. It's built slowly. That is the agonizing, frustrating, part for so manyof the business owners -- large and small -- who want to expand their Federal contracts. "Why can't it happen faster?" they ask.

Think of building trust like the process of filling a jar with marbles, one marble at a time. So it is with trust. I love this analogy. It's now my personal touchstone, a constant part of my conversations. It's the starting point of any engagement with my own clients. I encourage you to make it part of your own self-reflection, and your conversations with your team first. Consider it as a measure of how you're building trust with prospects. Build it into your conversations with your own clients, too.

So trust. What a huge topic! When someone at the client site confides in you about your Contracting Officer, "I'm not sure she trusts you," that can send us into a panic. The stakes are big. A relationship, a contract, a project, might fail! What's wrong? How can we fix it? Where do we even start?

Breathe. Here's a starting point. Take a look! Brene's research led her to propose that trust is made up of these seven elements, which acronym to:

B R A V I N G: When we trust, we are braving connection with each other.

Here's how that unpacks...and where to reflect as you consider a focal point for a conversation.

  • Boundaries: I trust you if you are clear about your boundaries and you hold them, and you are clear about my boundaries and you respect them.

  • Reliability: I can only trust you if you do what you say you’re going to do. Time after time. We have to be clear on our limitations so we don’t take on so much that we can’t deliver on our commitments.  You don't need to ever say "Let's do lunch" if you don't intend to do that. “It was really great seeing you.” Moment of discomfort. Goodbye.

  • Accountability: I can only trust you if, when you make a mistake you own it, apologize for it, and make amends. I can only trust you if, when I make a mistake, I’m allowed to own it, apologize for it, and make amends.

  • Vault: what I share with you, you will hold in confidence. What you share with me, I will hold in confidence. We lose trust with people when, eg a good friend comes up to me and shares something with me that is not yours to share. It’s not just about the fact that you hold my confidences; it’s also that I see that in your relationships you acknowledge confidentiality. Often we can be tempted to share things that are not ours to share as a way to build relationships. Closeness built on talking bad about other people (common enemy intimacy, or hating the same people) is not real intimacy.

  • Integrity: I can’t trust you if you do not act from a place of integrity and encourage me to do the same. Integrity is choosing courage over comfort, choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy, and practicing your values, not just professing your values.

  • Non-Judgement: I can fall apart, ask for help, and be in struggle without being judged by you. You can fall apart, and be in struggle and ask for help without being judged by me. The challenge is this: we are better at helping than we are at asking for help. As vendors, we place a high value on what we do because we give help. We think we have set up trusting relationships with people who really trust us because we are always there to help them. But if you cannot also ask THEM for help, too, then that’s not a trusting relationship. When we assign value to needing help, when I think less of myself for needing help, whether you are conscious of it or not, then when I offer help to you, I think less of you, too. This one is a big deal. Let's come back to this again!

  • Generosity: our relationship is only a trusting relationship if you can assume the most generous thing about my words, intentions, and behaviors, and then check in with me. If I screw up, say something, forget something, you will make a generous assumption. Imagine all the problems this kind of thinking might avoid!

Finally, I got to the end of Brene's talk, and I almost missed this huge point: The biggest issue is the loss of self trust. BRAVING works with self-trust, too. When something hard happens, and you say to yourself, I can’t trust myself. I’m so stupid, so naïve. You also have to ask, “Did I honor my own boundaries? Was I reliable? Did I hold myself accountable?  Was I protective of my stories? Did I stay in integrity? Was I non- judgmental toward myself?  Did I give myself the benefit of the doubt? Was I generous to myself?” If braving relationships with other people is braving connection, self-trust is braving self love, self respect.

If your own marble jar isn’t full, if you can’t count on yourself, you can’t count on others to give you what you don’t have.

If you find yourself in struggle with trust, the thing to look at first if your own marble jar, how you treat yourself. We cannot ask others to give to us something we don’t believe we are worthy of receiving. You will know you are worthy of receiving when you trust yourself above everyone else.

So now what?


  1. Start the conversation with your team. Where are your "Marble Jar" opportunities within your company?
  2. Then reflect on what's happening with your clients and partners. How can you fill THEIR marble jars this week?
  3. Learn more: Check out Brene Brown's free online course. Do it on your own, or as a team.
  4. Explore together: Talk with your clients about what you've learned. Ask THEM what moments you've missed, and how you can fill the jar together.

Thu, 02/18/2016 - 5:43pm

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