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the decision to trust

One of the quickest ways to gain everyone’s focus is to say the word “trust” in any given situation: work, training, coaching – the workplace, community organization, or family. We know who we trust and want others to trust us. But we don’t spend much time thinking about how and why we trust others and how and why others trust us.

Have you ever extended trust and gotten burned? Distrust leads to anxiety, fear, and anger. These are associated with processes initiated by the amygdala – the “low road” of the brain. A judgment of distrust immediately sets up the fight – flight – freeze experience in a threat response.

How do you feel when you’ve extended trust and received trust in return? Neurological research suggests that trust is correlated with the presence of oxytocin. This hormone is associated with healthy personal connections demonstrated by reduced fear response and increased well-being. In a trusting environment of relationships, the high-level brain functions – critical analysis, logic, creative thinking, and verbal ability – are easily accessed.

From behind the desk as leaders and managers, we function every day in workplaces where there is never enough time to reach the end of the “to-do” list. We face an unending series of conflicting demands. We are forced to change priorities often, sometimes on the spot. We do not always have control over compensation or promotions. We try to be transparently honest, consistent in our actions, and caring about each person. Yet we wonder why at times people work with an air of resignation, with a lack of trust in our leaders and organizations.

Understanding trust in the workplace:
Trust in the workplace is about vulnerability. In the workplace we are vulnerable in the areas of money, role, or promotions. And vulnerable to intangible things like beliefs, a way of doing things, status, or reputation. We are vulnerable to other’s actions. When we trust, we hope their actions will support and, at least, not harm us.

Trust is the focus of safety, autonomy, and human dignity. When we trust, our reactions include: I am safe. I can be open and curious. I can handle what is happening. I communicate freely, offer ideas, and expect the best. The opposites are true for distrust: I am in danger and under threat. I need to protect myself. I can’t handle this. I complain, withdraw, and expect the worst. I experience fear, anger, and resentment.

When we choose to trust we are making a complex decision. Stating that we trust someone is based on our judgment in four areas: integrity, intent, capabilities, and results.

  • Integrity has become a buzzword. It is invisible. But at its core, integrity is honesty: telling the truth and leaving the right impression. Other qualities that are a part of integrity are: congruence – acting consistently from our values, humility – putting others first while being more concerned about what is right rather than being right, and courage – doing the right thing even in the face of challenges.
  • Intent is part of our character. At its core is sincerity and motivation. To increase trust, intent must be visible. We communicate openly about what we are choosing to do and why we are acting. We communicate that our motivation is to act for the genuine benefit of others. We seek ways to create “enough” rather than function out of stress and scarcity.
  • Capabilities are more than the traditional “KSA” – knowledge, skills, and abilities. They include “TASKS:” Talents – natural gifts and strengths. Attitudes – our map of the world and how we behave. Skills – what we do well, specifically ones that are relevant to our work. Knowledge – learning, insight, and awareness. Style – our unique approaches to work, our personality.
  • Results represent our track record in taking responsibility for accomplishing goals and getting the right things done.

Managing trust in the workplace:
Since trust is a complex decision, as leaders and managers we can begin to understand ourselves by asking, “How am I acting and communicating in ways that build trust in my integrity and sincerity? In my intent and care? In my capabilities and competence? In my results and reliability?”

We manage more successfully when we ask ourselves why we don’t trust someone before we begin having workplace conversations. What are we saying when we say that we don’t trust someone? Do we have issues with their integrity? Intentions? Capabilities? Or, results?

Then we begin the conversation with being specific about our concerns about what they have done, not focusing on what they are. Ask how they see the situation and listen carefully for issues of integrity, intent, capabilities, and results.

Ask what they would do to restore trust. State clearly what actions and attitudes you need to experience from them in order to restore trust. Close by asking how they will commit to act in a trustworthy way.

On the flip side, if we have broken trust, the only antidote is to acknowledge and apologize. Acknowledgement means recognizing the betrayal of trust from the other person’s perspective – even if it was unintentional on your part. Be specific about how trust was betrayed: by integrity, intent, capability, or result. And apologize: take responsibility and state your intent to act with good motives and care for everyone’s benefit and well-being. It always includes not repeating the action and acting to correct the problem at hand.

Practicing trust in the workplace:
Observe your co-workers and begin to distinguish between different types of trust issues. Reflect on what others you trust are saying and doing that makes them trustworthy. Ask, “What do you entrust to others in the workplace? Why? What do your co-workers entrust to you? Why?”

Inspire trust by seeking to understand yourself and your own credibility, and then consistently behave in trust-building ways with other people. Consider how you can communicate so that others do not misunderstand you. Create and hold an intention to be trustworthy. An intention will bring clarity (why I’m doing this), meaning (why it’s important to me), and purpose (why this reflects my values) to everything that happens

Trust in the workplace takes an understanding how others judge trustworthiness, observing language and actions, and setting an intention to be a trusted leader, co-worker, and employee. Relationships based on mutual trust are the foundation for health in our companies, government, communities, and families.

What do you entrust to others in the workplace? Why? What do your co-workers entrust to you? Why?

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