Mastering Business Partner Collaboration in the Digital Age:
Strategies for Building Trust and Credibility

In the world of business, whether technology or finance, building trust and credibility with stakeholders is crucial. It forms the foundation of successful partnerships, fostering strong relationships, and driving economic performance.

In this article, I delve into the key traits, skills, and behaviours that enable the successful building of trust and credibility when collaborating with your business partners.

By exploring how to build trust and credibility I hope to provide actionable takeaways that empower you, the reader, with the knowledge to create enduring relationships from your business collaborations in the digital age. 

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Why It Matters

Trust and credibility are the cornerstones of business success through relationships. They create an environment where stakeholders feel confident, respected, and valued. Trust drives economic performance, influences stakeholder relationships, and fosters ethical behaviour as the bedrock for successful partnerships.

Key Traits, Skills, and Behaviours

1. Credibility

Credibility is not just a trait - it is the foundation of successful business partnerships. It instils trust, ensuring that stakeholders can rely on what an organisation and its people say. Trust is critical, as it underpins every interaction, decision, and negotiation.

Developing credibility involves cultivating deep expertise in your profession and industry. This means not only understanding the historical context and the current situation but also staying abreast of trends and news that could affect your business landscape. Being the expert in your field so that your advice and insights are not just helpful but sought after. This does not come overnight; it is the result of continuous learning, curiosity, and a genuine passion for your industry.

However, expertise alone does not convey credibility. It shows in our behaviours, particularly in our willingness to share our perspectives and, equally important, acknowledge our limits. There's immense power in offering your point of view, backed by facts and experience, to guide decisions. Yet, the strength to admit "I don't know" when faced with questions outside your knowledge area is equally vital. This honest admission not only humanises you but also elevates your status as a trusted advisor who values accuracy over ego.

Early in my career, I participated in a high stakes meeting. During which they asked me about the potential impact of a strategic decision that I had not fully analysed yet. The room's expectation was palpable, waiting for a response that could sway their decision.

I took a deep breath and said, "I don't have a complete analysis of that change yet to accurately predict its full impact. However, I will get back to you with a detailed assessment by tomorrow." This moment of transparency was a risk, but it paid off. While disappointed the directors appreciated my honesty and it strengthened their trust. That experience taught me that credibility is as much about what you say as it is about how you say it.

For anyone looking to enhance their credibility you must communicate with self-assurance. This does not just mean being confident in what you know or do not know; it also means how you present yourself. Simple actions, like a firm handshake or maintaining direct eye contact during conversations, can significantly impact the impression of your credibility. These gestures signal confidence and sincerity, reinforcing the trust that others place in you and your organization.

Credibility in any profession or industry is a multifaceted asset, combining knowledge, behaviour, and communication. It is about building a reputation that others can rely on, even in uncertainty. By staying informed, being honest about what you know, and communicating with confidence, you can establish a foundation of trust that will serve you and your business partners well into the future.

 2. Reliability

Reliability means partners, stakeholders, and customers can count on an organization to deliver on its promises, no matter how big or small. The connection between reliability and trust is crucial, as it forms the bedrock of lasting business relationships and is often the deciding factor in competitive markets.

The skill of making and keeping small promises is a powerful method to build reliability. These promises, whether they involve meeting deadlines, responding to emails in a timely manner, or providing regular project updates, might seem insignificant on their own. However, cumulatively, they create a reputation of dependability. This consistency in following through demonstrates to partners that you value their time and trust, reinforcing your reliability at every turn.

Behaviourally, reliability shows through punctuality and transparent communication, especially when there are setbacks. Being on time is a basic yet profound way to show respect for others' time and commitments. Equally important is the openness to communicate proactively if you are falling behind. Taking responsibility for delays and setting a new, realistic timeline not only mitigates frustration but also demonstrates your commitment to transparency and reliability.

I recall a critical project where my team were responsible for implementing a new payment integration within our finance organisation. Midway through, we encountered unexpected technical issues that threatened to delay our delivery. I remember the weight of the decision before us: to gloss over the setback in our next update meeting or to be upfront about the delay.

I chose transparency, explaining the issues and outlining our plan to address them, including a revised timeline. This moment of honesty turned into a turning point in the relationship with the client. They appreciated our openness, which in turn, solidified their trust in us. This experience taught me that reliability is not just about avoiding failures; it is about how you manage them when they occur.

To foster reliability, you must set clear expectations from the outset and provide regular updates on your progress. This establishes a baseline of transparency and accountability. For instance, if you promise a weekly update to a partner, ensure that you report consistently, including both successes and challenges. Such regular communication not only demonstrates your commitment to the project but also builds a narrative of reliability around you and your organisation.

Reliability in both IT and Finance hinges on small, consistent actions that build a reputation over time. By making and keeping promises, being punctual, communicating openly about setbacks, and setting clear expectations, you can establish yourself as a dependable business partner. This reliability, cultivated through everyday actions, becomes your signature in the business world, opening doors to deeper partnerships and opportunities.

3. Intimacy

Intimacy also plays a crucial role in trust. Not just the intimacy of personal relationships, but a professional form of intimacy that allows partners to share confidences and emotions that go beyond mere data. This form of intimacy fosters a deeper understanding and trust, enabling organisations to navigate complex challenges together.

One of the most critical skills in building this professional intimacy is the ability to listen, not just hearing the words but perceiving the entire symphony of communication. This includes tone, emotion, mood and even silence. It is about understanding the context and the subtext of communications, which often reveals more about priorities, concerns, and values than the actual words. Tuning into these subtle cues allows for a more nuanced response, tailored to the real needs and feelings of the partner.

A behaviour that significantly enhances intimacy is the act of sharing genuine appreciation. It is about recognising and vocalising the value that someone else’s work, insight, or presence brings to the table. This is not just about flattery or strategic praise; it is about acknowledging the unique contributions of individuals, which can profoundly impact their sense of belonging and significance within the wider team.

I learned the power of this approach during a particularly challenging integration project between our financial systems and those of a new supplier.

The project was fraught with technical difficulties and misunderstandings. Amid this tension, I noticed the extraordinary efforts of one of the partner’s team members, who had been staying late every night to ensure connections between the systems were correctly mapped.

During a meeting, I took a moment to publicly acknowledge her hard work and dedication, highlighting how her efforts were critical to the project’s success. The mood in the room shifted noticeably after that, and what was a tense relationship became much more collaborative and open.

This moment underscored for me how expressing genuine appreciation can break down barriers and build a foundation of intimacy and mutual respect.
An actionable takeaway to foster intimacy in professional relationships is the simple but powerful practice of using a person’s name.

Addressing someone by their name during conversations not only grabs their attention but also personalises the interaction, making it feel more direct and meaningful. It is a signal of respect and a step toward creating a more intimate and connected working relationship.

Building intimacy in business partnerships is about going beyond the surface level of professional interactions. By listening deeply, expressing genuine appreciation, and personalising interactions through the simple act of using names, we can create a foundation of trust and understanding. This, in turn, leads to more productive collaborations, as partners feel more connected and invested in each other’s success.

4. Low Self-Orientation

This trait underscores the capacity of an organisation and its representatives to prioritise the welfare and interests of stakeholders above their own. It is a commitment to the collective success, recognising that true value is for the mutual benefit of all parties involved.

Developing a skill set that supports low self-orientation involves deeply respecting and adapting to the cultural and operational norms, especially if they are global business partners.

It can mean adopting their language, using their preferred forms of communication, dressing in accordance with their culture, and showing reverence for their working environment. Such adaptability signals a genuine respect for the other party's identity and operational ethos, fostering a more inclusive and collaborative atmosphere.

A key behaviour indicative of low self-orientation is the courage to voice concerns or viewpoints that might be uncomfortable, difficult, or even unpopular, especially when doing so from a place of genuine concern for the client or partner.

This involves putting the client's needs and the project's success ahead of personal comfort or the fear of causing offense. It is about honesty and integrity, ensuring decisions are with the best interest of the client in mind, even when it is challenging to do so.

I recall a situation where embracing this behaviour was crucial. My team were nearing the completion of a significant software implementation for a client. During the final review, I noticed a critical feature that, while not part of the original scope, would significantly enhance the client's operational efficiency. Introducing this feature at such a late stage would require extending the timeline and increasing the budget.

Bringing this up so late in the project was uncomfortable, knowing the potential for disappointment and frustration. However, driven by a sincere belief in the client’s long-term benefit, I raised the issue. Initially the conversation was difficult, but in the end, led to a decision to include the feature, significantly benefiting the client. This experience reinforced the value of placing the client's interests at the forefront, even when it requires prolonging tough discussions.

To cultivate and demonstrate low self-orientation is to openly express your passion for the subjects and projects you are involved with. Passion is infectious and naturally shifts the focus from personal gains to the excitement and potential impact of the work itself. It communicates a dedication to excellence and success that transcends personal ambition, aligning closely with the interests and goals of your partners and stakeholders.

Fostering low self-orientation in IT and Finance partnerships is about demonstrating a profound commitment to the collective success through adaptability, integrity, and passion. It is about making decisions and taking actions that prioritise the good of the partnership over immediate personal gain. Through such a commitment, we build stronger, more resilient, and mutually beneficial relationships. 

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How You Build Trust and Credibility

1. Your Mind-Set and Attitude

Trustworthiness is not solely the product of technical expertise or a proven history. It also significantly hinges on the attitude one brings to the table. It is about the stories we tell ourselves about trust, the assumptions we make about those we do business with, and the narratives we hold about our capacities and intentions.

These internal narratives can profoundly influence our behaviour and interactions, for better or worse. One often overlooked aspect of trust-building is the need to critically examine and, where necessary, recalibrate our internal narratives. We carry a multitude of stories in our minds regarding what it means to be trustworthy and how to build trust.

These stories shape our approach to relationships and can either facilitate a fertile ground for trust to grow or erect invisible barriers that hinder its development. Being vigilant means constantly questioning these narratives, challenging our assumptions, and being open to new ways of understanding and building trust.

There was a pivotal moment early in my Project Management career during a project that was not going as planned. I had inadvertently fostered a narrative in my mind that trust was solely a product of flawless execution and that any mistake would irreparably damage the relationship with my stakeholders. This belief led to excessive caution, hindering open communication and innovation.

The turning point came during a frank conversation with a mentor, who helped me see that trust is more robust than I had imagined. It could withstand, and even reinforced by, honest admissions of challenges and collaborative efforts to resolve them.

This insight led me to shift my attitude towards one that valued transparency and joint problem-solving, significantly improving the project's outcome and deepening the trust between my team and that of my colleague’s.

The experience highlighted the importance of being vigilant about our mindset and actively busting the myth that disclosing setbacks may limit our trust-building opportunities. This means embracing a mindset that views trust not as a fragile commodity but as a resilient bond that can grow stronger through challenges. 

It involves recognising that being trustworthy encompasses not just what we do but also how we think and feel about our actions and intentions. Cultivating the right mindset and attitude is as critical to building and maintaining trust as the skills and knowledge we bring to our professional endeavours.

By remaining vigilant about our internal narratives and open to reevaluating them, we can create more meaningful, trusting, and productive partnerships.

2. Setting Your Intentions

Intentions function as a compass, guiding decisions, actions, and interactions towards desired outcomes. However, the true art lies in being committed to these outcomes without becoming inflexibly attached to them.

This nuanced approach allows for agility and adaptability, essential in industries known for their rapid pace of change and uncertainty.
The essence of setting intentions in business partnerships revolves around the principle of serving your partner's needs, rather than prioritising personal or immediate gains.

This perspective fosters a collaborative environment where trust and mutual respect can flourish. It shifts the focus from transactional interactions to building a relationship that can weather challenges and capitalize on opportunities together.

Early in my career in finance, I embarked on a project with the ambitious goal to double in size year on year through acquisition. From the outset, I was deeply committed to the project's success, not only for my benefit but for the organisation's long-term strategic advantage.

However, over time, it became evident that the initially defined outcomes might not fully align with the evolving market dynamics and the owner's shifting priorities.

Whilst we experienced massive growth through acquisition, hidden in that business growth was significant revenue leakage and my finance team stretched way beyond what was sustainable and staff turnover was increasing due to the pressure to meeting increasingly challenging deadlines.

As a result, I had to communicate to the leadership team that if things were to continue at the current rate, we were acquiring competitors before we stabilised the existing merged businesses, we would fail to achieve a successful exit.

The actionable takeaway from this experience is the importance of focusing on serving your partner's ultimate desired outcomes, rather than a personal agenda.

This means actively engaging to understand the challenges and objectives, being flexible in your approach, and willing to adjust strategies as situations evolve. By setting intentions that prioritise the partnership's long term collective success, you create a foundation for trust, collaboration, and sustained growth.

Setting intentions in business partnerships is a dynamic process that requires a balance between commitment to outcomes and adaptability to changing circumstances.

By focusing on serving your partner's needs, you not only achieve your immediate goals but also build a resilient and mutually beneficial relationship that can navigate the complexities of the business landscape.

3. Demonstrating Trustworthiness as Setbacks Arise

The foundation of any enduring business relationship is the mutual confidence that each party will act in the best interest of the other. This develops over time, through consistent demonstration of one's actions. It is about showing, not just telling, that you are dependable, capable, and committed to the mutual success of the partnership.

Demonstrating trustworthiness extends beyond fulfilling contractual obligations or delivering projects on time. It encompasses the ways in which you engage with your partners, how transparent you are in your communications, and your willingness to go beyond in times of need. It is about being a steadfast ally, not just a service provider or a client.

A personal anecdote that exemplifies this occurred during a critical phase of a collaborative project between our finance project team and the operations team at a major financial institution. A sudden, unforeseen complication threatened to derail the project launch, potentially causing significant financial and reputational damage to our partner with their customers.

Recognising the gravity of the situation, our team mobilised over the weekends and evenings, working tirelessly to devise a solution that would mitigate the impact. These acts were not from fear of punishment, but by a genuine commitment to our partner's well-being and success.

By the time we got to launch, we had not only identified a workaround but also implemented a temporary fix that kept the project on track without compromising its integrity. This swift and decisive action on our part served as a tangible demonstration of our trustworthiness and dedication to the partnership.

It showed that we were not just colleagues, but true partners invested in mutual success. The gratitude and strengthened trust from our colleagues and set a new benchmark for our relationship.
Take initiative to demonstrate your trustworthiness. This means when things go wrong you are transparent in your communications, dependable in your commitments, and ready to act decisively in your partner's best interest, especially when it is least expected.

Building credibility with your stakeholders is an ongoing process, where each action in support of the partnership reinforces trust.
Trustworthiness develops through consistent, dependable actions that show you are fully committed to the team's success.

By actively demonstrating your reliability, capability, and dedication, you not only build trust but also create a durable foundation for a lasting and productive relationship.

4. Responding to Direct Questions with Direct Answers

In the complex world of modern business where ambiguity can be a common language and indirect answers are often the norm, speaking frankly and directly is refreshingly rare and valuable. There is a distinctive power in answering direct questions with direct answers. It cuts through the noise, clarifies intentions, and accelerates decision-making.

When you speak frankly and honestly, you not only provide clarity but also distinguish yourself as a reliable and trustworthy partner. People indeed sit up and take notice when they encounter someone who communicates frankly and without unnecessary embellishments or spin.

This approach to communication fosters an environment of transparency and trust, which are critical for successful partnerships.
I recall a pivotal moment during a negotiation with a Regional Operations Director. He was considering a substantial investment in a new IT infrastructure project for his organisation’s transformation whilst we were proposing an alternative project.

During our discussions, he posed a direct question about the potential risks involved and the likelihood of project delays. The easy route would have been to downplay the risks and offer assurances wrapped in optimistic projections.

However, recognising the importance of honesty and directness, I chose to provide a straightforward answer. I outlined the significant risks, the strategies we had in place to mitigate them, and our experiences with managing similar project challenges in the past.
This moment of candidness was a risk, but it paid off.

This executive expressed appreciation for the transparency, noting that it was refreshingly honest in a sea of overly optimistic pitches. This honesty not only helped secure buy-in and support for project funding, but also laid a solid foundation for a partnership based on mutual trust and respect.

Straightforward and honest communication is not being blunt to the point of rudeness; rather, it is about being clear, concise, and sincere. Direct answers to direct questions to demonstrate respect for the other person's time and intelligence and shows that you value integrity over making a quick sale or winning a negotiation point.

Such an approach not only builds trust but also establishes your reputation to stand by your word and treat your partners with honesty and respect.
Answering direct questions with direct answers differentiates you as someone who values transparency and integrity, qualities that are essential for building strong, lasting business relationships.

By being straightforward and honest in your communication, you not only facilitate clearer understanding and quicker decision-making but also fosters a culture of trust and credibility. 

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The Future of Business Partnering: A Blueprint for Future-Proof Success

Whilst trust and credibility are the enduring cornerstones of business success, the digital age has ushered in a new era of collaboration, requiring both finance and IT professionals to adapt and evolve.

Right now, we are at the crossroads of tradition and innovation, the essence of building and maintaining trust and credibility in our business relationships continues to undergo transformative shifts.

Embracing digital collaboration tools is non-negotiable in today's global and often remote business environment. Collaboration platforms such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom have transitioned from being mere conveniences to indispensable assets for fostering clear, continuous communication across the vast expanse of our digital workspaces.

The adept use of these tools, coupled with a strategic selection tailored to specific contexts, significantly amplifies our ability to maintain confidentiality, ensure data integrity, and offer real-time visibility into project statuses, thereby enhancing our credibility and reinforcing reliability with our partners through unprecedented levels of transparency and responsiveness.

Moreover, the rapid evolution of the business landscape mandates initiative-taking learning and adaptation. Familiarity with the latest technology innovations, cybersecurity trends, and advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning is crucial.

By staying informed and leveraging these new and emerging technologies, we not only improve operational efficiency and security but also position ourselves as trusted advisors in our respective fields.
Yet, amidst this technological evolution, the human element remains paramount.

Cultivating emotional intelligence in virtual environments challenges us to perceive beyond the spoken word, tuning into subtleties in tone, pace, and even the unspoken emotions conveyed through digital mediums.

This nuanced understanding of communication fosters a deeper sense of intimacy and mutual respect, crucial for maintaining low self-orientation and prioritising the collective success over individual gains. 

Implementing structured feedback mechanisms offers a pathway to continuous improvement and open dialogue. By engaging in regular, candid exchanges through digital platforms, we demonstrate a steadfast commitment to our partnerships and a willingness to grow and adapt based on mutual insights. 

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In the dynamic landscape of modern business, the path to mastering collaboration with business partners intertwines complexity with immense reward.

The strategic integration of digital collaboration tools, proactively watching emerging industry trends, a deepened emotional intelligence, and a commitment to ongoing feedback are the pillars upon which we construct the foundation for enduring success.

 These practices do more than just strengthen our existing partnerships; they position us as pioneering leaders, fully equipped to steer through the challenges and seize the opportunities presented by our ever-evolving professional environments.

As we continuously refine our strategies for building trust and credibility, we move steadily towards a future where our business relationships do not merely survive, they flourish. In this vision, our collaborations spark transformative change and secure lasting achievements, underpinned by the mutual trust and credibility we've meticulously nurtured.

Trust and credibility transcend being mere ethical obligations; they are the lifeblood of robust economic performance and the cornerstone of fruitful business partnerships.
The journey of fortifying trust and credibility with business partnering is intricate, demanding a harmonious blend of traits, skills, and behaviours.

Emphasising credibility, reliability, intimacy, and a mindset focused on the collective success over individual gains paves the way for fostering profound, enduring connections with our partners and key stakeholders.

For IT and finance professionals dedicated to excelling in their fields, embracing these insights and actionable strategies is essential for laying down a robust framework for business partnerships that are not only resilient but also primed for mutual growth and success in the digital age.