信任、声誉价值几何? / Building Trust and Reputation

信任、声誉价值几何?

“企业的品牌如同人的声誉,只有尽力将困难的事做好,才能赢得声望。”

——亚马逊网站创始人杰夫•贝佐斯(生于1964年)

对以上说法,我想补充一下:一个人要想赢得良好的声望,除了要把困难的事做好,还要让人知道自己是坦诚、值得信赖、并且能够提供客观意见的人。

从长远来看,良好的声望是个人最具价值的资产,需要花费很多时间去积累,却容易毁于一旦。

在任何领域中,这都是千真万确的,但它与商业的关系尤为紧密。

在国际商务中,声望好与不好的差别比在国内更加明显。良好的声誉价值极高,甚至可以决定竞争的输赢。

其原因可能是离家越远,人与人之间、组织与组织之间的共同点就越少。文化和价值上的差异可能导致误解和不信任,甚至会由此滑向交易失败、合作破裂的深渊。

这说明建立信任最好还是要从零开始:在业务关系刚萌芽的时候,就假定双方在相互认识、相互了解和相互信任方面都处于极低的水平。为此,就要多花些时间建立起系统的沟通,来解决这个问题。

人们常说“人生苦短”,这句话也意味着“生命如此短暂,不能拿名誉来冒险,因为恶名会毁了你,并让你付出惨重的代价。”

年轻人经常会问,相对于那些惯于欺骗、偷盗和违规的人来说,好人是否终究能有好报?

有时似乎坏人总能抢先,至少在短期内情况的确如此。例如,银行劫匪可能一夜暴富,但问题是这种财富很难长久,并且经常会伴有性命之忧,其中很多还会破坏幸福的生活。(例如,你的前搭档用枪抵着你的头,让你交出全部现金。)

据我所见,建立声望的价值不仅在于它的正确性,还在于它比其它任何方式都更可能带来长期的成功。

如果你不相信,就请想想有多少劫匪下半辈子能过上幸福安宁的生活。这不仅是钱的问题,很多暴富的百万富翁和亿万富翁都明白这一点。

个人层面上的声望还要建立在信任的基础上,要经过一段时间让你的行为表现对周围的人具有可预见性才能获得。

企业领导喜欢可预见性。虽然他们经常要应付各种不确定性,但可预见性和透明度像磁石一样对他们具有很强的吸引力。

建立信任的过程各国有所不同。中国内地的同事经常建议我不要相信别人,尤其是最近十年。

我认为这是中国近二、三十年来快速发展变化带来的副作用,它已经侵蚀了传统的价值观,还让贪婪和物质主义的洪流一发不可收拾。

在某种程度上,这也反映出了文化的差异。冒着以偏概全的危险,我认为美国人一般会先信任,后质疑。就像里根总统在形容军备控制谈判的策略时曾说的:“信任,但要去伪存真。”

我的中国朋友更加谨慎,更愿意先观察一段时间并建立起关系,然后再给予谨慎的、有条件的信任。但这种进程也有可能加快,前提是已经有了一些既有的关系、“裙带”、或者是共同信任的第三方介绍等。

在这方面,美国人遇到信任临界点时会先给绿灯,而中国人会给黄灯(就是介于绿灯和红灯之间的信号,表示要提起注意。)

这种差异并非不可调和,但却值得关注。因为在中国,信任虽然很难建立,但却维持得更加长久。而在美国,由于信任是在最初就以极快的速度无条件赋予的,因此就更容易、也更快会被破坏。

一旦信任遭到破坏,重建的难度要比当初建立时大很多。

所有这些都表明,不要理所当然。互相理解和互相信任需要经过很多有意识的努力才能获得,特别是在跨文化关系中。忽略这方面的要求会给以后带来意外的干扰。而如果双方都能够用心,这个问题完全是可以避免的。

Building Trust and Reputation

“A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.”

— Jeff Bezos (1964 – )

I would add to that statement that in addition to trying to do hard things well, good personal reputation is earned by becoming known to be straightforward, reliable, and a source of objective advice.

A positive reputation is an individual’s most valuable asset in the long run. It takes quite a bit of time to establish, but only a short time to damage or even ruin.

This is true in any field, but in business it has particular relevance.

In international business, the difference between a good reputation and a neutral or negative one can be even more significant than in local business. A positive reputation is extremely valuable, and can mean the difference between winning and losing in a competitive situation.

The reason is that the farther you go from home, the less common ground there is between people and organizations. Cultural and value differences create a high potential for misunderstanding and mistrust, which can begin the slippery slope which ends in the failure of a deal or a partnership.

That means the best approach is zero-based: at the outset of a new business relationship, assume a very low level of mutual knowledge, understanding and trust. In response to this situation, develop a systematic communications process over time which addresses these weaknesses.

When people say “Life is short,” one moral contained in this statement is: “Life is too short to risk your reputation, because sooner or later a bad reputation will catch up with you, and cost you dearly.”

A common question among younger people is whether or not good people succeed in the long run, as compared to people who consistently cheat, steal and break the rules.

Sometimes it seems like the bad guys get ahead faster, and at least in the short run, this can be true. Bank robbers, for example, can become very wealthy in a single day. The problem is, that wealth is usually not very sustainable and comes with all kinds of life-threatening risks attached to it, most of which will undermine a happy life. (For example, a former partner in crime pointing a gun at your head and demanding all your cash.)

Based on what I’ve seen, I would say that building a good reputation is worthwhile not only because it’s the right thing to do, but it has a much higher probability of long-term success than the alternatives.

If you don’t believe me, consider how many bank robbers went on to live a happy and peaceful life for the rest of their days. It’s not just about money, as many instant millionaires and billionaires discover.

Reputation on an individual level is also built on trustworthiness, which has to be earned over time through a demonstrated pattern of behavior which becomes predictable to those around you.

Business leaders like predictability. They cope with uncertainty on a regular basis, but are drawn to predictability and transparency like a magnet.

The process of building trust works somewhat differently from one culture to another. One of the most common pieces of advice I’ve received, especially in the past 10 years, from mainland Chinese friends, is not to be so trusting of people.

I think this is an outgrowth of the phenomenal and rapid pace of change in China these past 20-30 years, which has eroded traditional values and unleashed powerful currents of greed and materialism.

It’s also a reflection, to some extent, of cultural differences. At the risk of generalization, I think Americans tend to trust people first, and ask questions later. As Ronald Reagan once described his approach to arms control negotiations, “Trust, but verify.”

My Chinese friends are more cautious, and tend to award trust more carefully and conditionally only after a period of observation and relationship-building. This process may be expedited if the relationship is built on some existing relationship or “guanxi” such as kinship, the introduction of a mutually trusted third party, etc.

In this respect, Americans tend to have their traffic lights set on green as they approach the intersection where trust begins to matter; whereas the Chinese setting tends to be amber (the color which flashes in between green and red in some countries’ traffic lights, indicating caution).

The differences are not incompatible, but they are worth paying attention to. Because in a Chinese context, trust is more challenging to establish, it tends to be more durable. In an American context, because trust is initially granted more quickly and with fewer conditions, it can also be undermined more quickly and easily.

Once trust is broken, it is much more challenging to rebuild than it was to establish in the first place.

All of which is to say, don’t take it for granted. Mutual understanding and trust take a lot of intentional work to establish, especially in cross-cultural relationships. Failure to pay attention to this requirement creates the risk of disruptive surprises at a later stage. This kind of problem is avoidable if both sides put their minds to it.


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