Undress to Impress: Build Trust, Not Smoke Screens

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Article Takeaways:

  • We need to get better at identifying substance.
  • No one wants to pay serious money for beautifully polished turds.
  • How you can go about decoupling from distractions

Pitch theatre, polished narratives, energetic personas, big reveals, all jargon and no listening. Sound familiar? Thought so. Does all this highlight substance? Or distract from it?

Dress to impress 

Is your agency good or impressive? Or better yet, good and impressive? It seems that for most it’s one or the other, rarely both. Being impressive takes a lot of effort, and it may well come at the expense of providing true, tangible, measurable value. Clients want and need, their service providers to focus on quality outputs, not meeting cosmetics.

Being impressive alone rarely converts to positive results in the real world. The problem is, we all like to be impressed. When we are, we let our guards down and just float along on a journey where someone else is holding the reins. As nice and comfortable as it is, we should find ways to constantly question what type of journey we’re on. There’s nothing wrong with impressive, it’s a welcome plus. It helps to accentuate the power of an idea, a concept or a business model. It helps to sell and it facilitates buying. However, being good at what one does isn’t a plus. It’s a must. No one wants to pay serious money for beautifully polished turds. That’s why it makes sense to put as much focus as possible on identifying substance, as opposed to passively getting swept away by smoke and mirrors.

Cutting through the noise

 How should one then go about decoupling substance from distractions? Here are 10 tips that may help.

  1. Does it look like more time and effort has been invested into bells and whistles than into the work itself? If it does, then this is the case.
  2. Jargon gets thrown around a lot. Jargon is the language of power and persuasion, not necessarily knowledge. Ask the obvious question. What do you mean by xyz?
  3. Look for results. Look behind results. How was it validated? What potential results seem to have been left out? Ask questions and probe for answers.
  4. When you ask a question, are you getting long rambles that sound credible, but don’t quite give you the answer to your question? Ask the same question again.
  5. Is the answer rarely or never “I/we don’t know”? If that’s the case, run.
  6. When a question gets directed your way. Are they asking questions to learn or to seem smart? People who are secure in their knowledge tend to have the guts to ask simple, even stupid questions.
  7. Do you feel you’re being heard? Listening is hard. Many aren’t listening because while you’re talking, they’re too busy planning what to say next.
  8. Slow it down. Propose a break. Get some fresh air. Our brain needs time and space to serve our interests optimally.
  9. Take your time. Very few deadlines are immovable. Even fewer meetings require decisions to be made on the spot.
  10. If something looks too good to be true, it is.


When people are asked for the reasons behind highly successful projects or business relationships, “trust” is the keyword that is mentioned over and over. If great relationships and outcomes hinge on trust, then focusing on building trust sounds like a better idea than spending time on planning how to impress. And great outcomes built from relationships of trust, now that’s impressive.

Building trust is not complicated, but it’s hard.

Achieving trust at scale requires doing things and acting in ways that may not be intuitive to us as individuals, and especially not as organizations. It’s about getting naked (metaphorically in most cases) and showing vulnerability. Openly admitting that we’re wrong. Telling the truth, even when it’s not the thing the other party wants to hear. It’s about admitting mistakes, ignorance, and lack of knowledge. It’s about empathy, about trying really hard to understand the realities of another. It’s about persistence. Doing what we know is right even when it doesn’t seem to be paying off in the short term. It’s about patience, allowing trust to grow over time. It is about being inclusive, not exclusive. Big reveals are cool but letting people in on our secrets earlier will make them feel included, a part of something. It’s about trusting that we’re good enough, smart enough, good-looking enough, successful enough, sexy enough and openly being all those things at the exact level that we are.

And it’s a leap of faith. Hemingway said it best ‘The way to make people trustworthy is to trust them’.

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1 Comment
  1. Hi Andre,
    thank you for the copy of your article. I am not sure I did understand everything, but the message of honesty is simple and something worth
    building on. Wish you the best of luck and success in your future work.

    A proud father Guy Bardy

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