Visiting author shares tips on building trust at MU


“Trust your source, but fact check.” That adage learned long ago in basic journalism came back to me this week.

The MU Extension annual conference held a new segment this year. The summit meeting merged with MU Engagement Week. We were invited to a keynote address by Stephen Covey brought here by the Novak Leadership Institute at J School.

Covey spoke to a packed audience at Jesse Auditorium. It’s that top-notch space for visiting speakers. His topic: “Leading with Trust.” He says trust is your No. 1 value. I’ve learned that value interviewing subject over these many years.

Covey came on like gangbusters with drama and entertainment. He moved from behind the Jesse Hall podium to lecture. He performed, pacing back and forth on that huge stage. A terrific attention getter, he gave 13 points to support trust-building. All are useful traits.

But as a longtime MU Extension educator, I learned limits of our adult minds to recall lectures. My favorite writer Dan Kahneman, author of “Thinking Fast and Slow,” confirms it. If you lecture for an hour, you may leave three ideas in minds of your listeners. This week, I jotted down what I took away:  Tell the truth. Listen to your audience. Work at building relationships.

But dang it, I can’t remember 10 missing points. Before writing I checked my reporter notebook. Then to fact check myself, I went to the Internet to find Covey’s list.

I was kinda close. Covey started with 1.”Talk Straight.” (Tell truth.)  His point No. 12 was “Listen First.” Final 13th was “Extend Trust.” I’ve twisted that into building relationships.

Other good points are Transparency, Right wrongs, Deliver results, Clarify expectations. On and on. The 13 points make much to recall or to jot down in notes.

Covey did use a dynamic teaching device, I’ve used. Stop lecturing and give a verbal quiz. Have the class form groups of three to work on an answer.

His assignment: Think of the most trusted person you work with and then think of your least trusted. The question: How does your working relationship differ between the two? Wow.

I could do that. We weren’t to name names, but just tell the main difference. My trusted source and I work well together. It’s worthwhile. The less-trusted source is rarely productive.

I remember that vividly from the lecture — and little else.

Walking out of Jesse Hall, I was joined by a co-worker. She said, “He should have stuck with seven points.” I agreed.

That’s where fact-checking brought a HUGE awakening. She and I obviously thought the Stephen Covey we just heard was author of the book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Not so. That was by Stephen R. Covey the dad of Stephen M.R. Covey, our speaker.

The “7 Habits” book sold 25 million copies. It still sells. Dad had made his fortune with his books and lectures. Son Stephen has written “The SPEED of Trust.” He’s making his living with “Trust” books and lectures.

I learned about telling the truth in visits with over 100 Missouri mule traders. I recall one claim, heard more than once: “I never told a lie about my mules.” After a pause, the kicker: “But, I may not have told the whole truth.”

From mule lore, my journalism training drew reinforcement. Trust your source to tell the truth, but fact check.

If I hadn’t fact checked before writing this week’s column, I’d have misled you on who I heard speaking at the Engagement Conference. When you hear a fluent most believable speaker, it pays to fact check.

That makes journalism an exciting business. You may not believe this, but I’ve noticed increasingly that some politicians don’t tell the whole truth. Be thankful journalists fact check the fake talks and tweets.

Share your stories about old-time muleskinners. I learned a lot about story telling from them.

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