The Cultivation and Collapse of Trust

Trust is such a big word. It’s the belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, and effective. It’s also the confident expectation of something; our attitude about the future; and it’s a decision-making skill as to what or who you can or cannot put your faith in.

Many of us believe trust has to be built from the inside out; if you can’t trust yourself, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to trust anyone else. Perhaps you’ll spend a few minutes reflecting on the following: Do I trust myself? Can others trust me? What evidence do I have that this is true? What evidence do I have that it’s not?

How does one cultivate trust? Since people will usually not do business with you, if trust is absent; will not want to be your friend, colleague, or team member (if given a choice) and certainly will not commit to a close relationship such as spouse or partner; it seems to me that trust is vitally important to both your success and your happiness.

Let’s first discuss the framework that trust is built upon. I believe it to be these areas:

  • Transparency – your actions match your words. You do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it. You don’t have hidden agendas. You don’t say words that will manipulate someone into doing what you want them to do, as opposed to saying what you think. You don’t tell one person one thing and another something else. You have integrity.
  • Competent – you don’t promise to do something without first having the skill to do it or a plan to acquire the skill. You clarify standards, expectations and timelines before wildly promising something just to make someone happy. You ask for support and/or resources to fulfill any promise you do make. You are realistic and honest.
  • Reliable – you are consistent. People know what to expect from you. Your attitude or mood is not like a roller coaster. We all have days better than others but reliability means we don’t hold our colleagues or family members hostage to our moods. It also means we can be counted on to do what we commit to. We take our commitments seriously and hold ourselves accountable to deliver.
  • Humble – show your vulnerability. You know you don’t know it all. You are open to others opinions; you take the time to listen and are open to changing your mind. You don’t hold yourself above others; you show your humanity. You don’t talk about others behind their backs. You admit your failures as soon as you realize the mistake and without pointing fingers.
  • Kind – you are kind. You treat people with respect. This won’t necessarily make you a great leader, but it will create an environment of safety. Only in a safe environment can relationships be built, collaboration occur, teams grow stronger, people be happier and productivity rise.

So what happens when trust is corroded? The collapse of trust has a high cost for both personal relationships and business. Sometimes this corrosion begins with such a small or seemingly insignificant incident. For example, once I showed up at my Naturopath’s office to pick up supplements on a Friday afternoon about 3 pm only to find out they close at noon on Friday. The next month I was careful to stop by before noon on Friday, only to discover they are now closed all day on Friday. Is it so much trouble to post a sign on the door a month in advance indicating a change in office hours or to send a mass email to clients?

A similar thing happened with another vendor; first he moved his office (no problem with that) and he posted office hours as 9-5 Monday through Friday (no problem here either)…the problem begins when I call the office and never get an answer. My call will eventually be returned but I find what they really mean is ‘Open 9-5 by Appointment’, but that is not what is posted on the door, nor what the answering machine says.

My trust begins to erode when I think that these businesses are not acting like businesses. Are they out of integrity? They are not being clear and specific enough about what they are offering me as a customer. Post a sign that says “Next month we will begin closing on Fridays” or “We are open by appointment only, Monday through Friday” – don’t keep your customers guessing or your customers will take their business elsewhere (I did).

I see assumptions and unrealized expectations occurring all the time in my work with corporate America. One department is waiting on a new hire and assumes HR is pursuing this new hire, then later finds out HR is busy hiring for another department. All the while, HR has been waiting for the first department to deliver the job description/requirements for this new hire and the CEO thinks HR has been diligently looking for several new hires and must not be able to find the right fit. The truth: nothing’s happening! This is the way trust erodes between departments and colleagues. People don’t clarify standards, expectations or timelines. People don’t deliver, miscommunication occurs, tempers flare, relationships suffer and productivity goes out the window.

Loss of trust also means:

  • People no longer feel safe to speak up – innovation & collaboration suffer
  • They are afraid to clarify, therefore you’re unsure as to what to expect
  • They won’t hold each other accountable so productivity declines
  • They work hard, but out of fear and not commitment (culture erodes)
  • Certain individuals may ‘band together’ leading to ineffective teams in which team members may be at cross purposes
  • The attitude about the future is uncertain = disengagement

Trust can be both easily built and easily destroyed. Once destroyed, it’s not as easy to regain. Just like keeping a customer is easier and less expensive than finding a new customer, trust is the same. Showing kindness, being fair, delivering on what you say you will deliver on and when you say you will deliver it, righting your wrongs, not throwing others under the bus, and clarifying vs. assuming will all go a long way in cultivating a culture of trust.

As Patrick Lencioni said in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, trust is the foundation. Make yours a strong one.

Judy Irving, Executive & Leadership Coach – –


~ by transformativethoughts on May 4, 2015.

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