Jacky Sherman

The Consultant's Consultant

07970 638857


Design For Trust: Overcoming Your Stranger-Danger Bias

And realising most people are trustworthy ...



You know that before you're willing to give referrals, you want to feel confident the other person will not let you down. Take heart that according to Airbnb's experiences, most people are trustworthy, we just don't know it ...

Joe Gebbia, the co-founder of Airbnb during his talk about Design For Trust

Joe Gebbia, the co-founder of Airbnb during his talk about Design For Trust

copyright: ted talks

I was listening to Joe Gebbia, the co-founder of Airbnb, in his TED talk today when researching the subject of trust for this blog post. I will confess this is one company that had totally passed me by, but not anymore.

"Airbnb is a company that helps you to put people up in your home or stay with other people when you travel!"

In brief, Joe talks about how he set up Airbnb, after offering a total stranger a room for the night. Now that really is taking trust to extremes. Was he just lucky? Well, his experience with Airbnb and subsequent research with Stanford University would suggest that actually, statistically speaking, the chances were that this total stranger would prove to be trustworthy.

Also, he had shortened the odds by spending the evening talking to the person before offering the room. This is what he calls 'Designing For Trust'.

It resonated with me because here was another piece of independent evidence that supports our business model for Referral Marketing. If you read last week's blog post about working with the Referral Institute then you will know that hard evidence to support our methods is really important to give me confidence in the advice I give my clients.

Some key principles emerged that I would like to share with you. We are hard-wired to be wary of strangers. What Joe calls the stranger-danger bias. The more a person is like us, the less of a stranger they seem and equally the more they are different from us, the more we are on 'Danger Alert'.

"We overcome this by gaining more information about the person!"

What we are doing is finding the commonalities shifting them into being 'more like us'. The information we are looking for is what others think about them, their reputation and what they say about themselves and how much that all fits together.

Consistency and congruency are vital as we have acute 'cheat spotting' antennae tuned into inconsistencies. The interesting research is how much of this we need. Joe's experience suggests that it is less that you think, but possibly more than many of us provide in business.

Firstly, our reputation as expressed in reviews about us. The experience at Airbnb is that you need at least 10 consistent reviews to trust the reputation. This will resonate with many PR people who advocate that the best way to overcome the impact of a bad review is to publish more good reviews.

Then what we say about ourselves is about self-disclosure. Here's where people actually make the decision to trust you as an individual. I loved Joe's example in his presentation.

As my subject is building trust with strangers in business then I'll turn that into a first meeting at a network event.

  • "Hi" followed by silence ... is not enough.

  • "Hi, I didn't think I was going to make it today. I'm in the middle of a divorce and my husband never turned up to collect the kids, that's the third time this month" ... and on and on ... rather too much for a stranger.

If you don't think those interactions happen, I can reveal they are real examples from my own experience when I'm out networking.

The middle ground is where you want to be. Who you are, what made you come to this event and, preferably, mention someone you came with or you know in the group.

Some further disclosure in the conversation might be about interests or hobbies or what the speaker talked about. What both parties are actually seeking is what they have in common and reduce the stranger-danger bias.

My referral marketing tip for you is to design a strategy to eliminate your stranger-danger bias within your business community:

  • Be prepared to make some self-disclosure early on, but not too much. Take care of your reputation all day and every day in person and on line by being consistent and congruent.

  • Remember others are learning about you when you're relaxing as well as when you are presenting yourself.

  • Collect at least 10 positive testimonials both formal and informal about your trustworthiness personally and in business and make sure they are visible to your chosen audience.

  • Not everyone you meet or know will have read this so be prepared to ask questions and research others to establish that they are trustworthy in return.

Airbnb's experience would suggest that most of us can shift out of the danger zone quite quickly so I highly recommend you watch some more of the TED talks on the Economy of Trust.

Fascinating in their own right and will inspire you for the future.

Until next time ...


Leave a comment ...

Share the blog love ...

Précis (0)

Share this to FacebookShare this to TwitterShare this to LinkedInShare this to PinterestShare this via Buffer

More about Jacky Sherman ...


07970 638857