Trust in the Workplace

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1. Common myths about trust

It’s essential to learn about trust because there are some very unhelpful myths about the subject. Here are some truths:

  • Trust is not simple, innate and easy; it’s highly complex, emotionally provocative and means different things to different people
  • Trust can be repaired and restored, though it takes willingness and work
  • Trust is everyone’s responsibility; everyone needs to play a role and take responsibility for how they behave in their workplace relationships
  • Around 90 per cent of all betrayals in the workplace are minor, unintentional betrayals, such as repeatedly showing up late for work, missing deadlines, not acknowledging one another and so on.

2. Why trust is important

Organisations that foster trust are more profitable.

  • A Watson Wyatt Worldwide study found that organisations where front-line employees trusted senior leadership posted a 42 per cent higher return on shareholder investment over those firms where distrust was the norm.
  • Business is conducted via relationships and working relationships drive business results.
  • Effective working relationships are based upon a foundation of trust.
  • In trusting work environments there is open communication, willing collaboration, fluid information and knowledge sharing, and the support for one another that is necessary for delivering business results.
  • Employees have more energy, take risks, innovate more frequently, collaborate with co-workers, are responsible, treat customers better and drive results.

3. Contractual trust

Contractual trust implies a mutual understanding between people that each will do what they say they will do. People need to understand what their leader expects and what they can expect in return. The six behaviours of contractual trust are

  • Make sure people are clear on what is expected of them and the specific outcomes that you want
  • Define clear roles and responsibilities
  • Think and act with others in mind, support each other and operate with a sense of shared responsibility
  • Be consistent
  • Keep agreements
  • Delegate appropriately.

4. Communication trust

Critical to communication trust is speaking with good purpose. When people speak directly to one another regarding their issues and concerns, they speak with good purpose. When people fail to do so, they fuel gossip and backbiting. The six behaviours of communication trust are

  • Share information – prevent misunderstandings or needless concerns through sharing information
  • Communicate openly and honestly: tell the ‘tough truths’; don’t spin them
  • Take responsibility for your mistakes; give others permission to admit their mistakes, and then constructively deal with mistakes.
  • Give feedback with the intent to support and encourage, not insult, blame or make wrong
  • Respect requests for confidentiality; protect privileged information
  • Directly address issues or concerns; counter gossip head-on.

5. Competence trust

When a leader does not trust their employees, they tend to micromanage and fail to delegate appropriately. As a result, people don’t free feel to use their skills and knowledge, often feeling discounted or robbed of opportunities to grow and develop. The four behaviours of competence trust are

  • Acknowledge people’s skills and abilities
  • Allow people to make decisions
  • Involve others and seek their input
  • Help people learn new skills.

6. Trust tips

  • We are inclined to trust people
  • Who take responsibility for their role in the relationship
  • Who demonstrate that they consider the best interests of others, rather than just themselves
  • Who do what they say they will do
  • Who practise the values they tell us are important to them.

We are inclined not to trust people

  • Who are not willing to accept responsibility for their actions
  • Who gossip/talk about others behind their back
  • Who blame others without looking at their role in the experience
  • Who make snap judgments and draw conclusions before hearing all the information.

7. Broken trust in the workplace

Trust and transparency are more important to corporate reputation in the United States than the quality of products and services – a key finding from the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey on trust and credibility conducted by PR giant Edelman.

  • Major betrayals in the workplace – from corporations grossly mismanaging worker layoffs to CEOs committing crimes and misdemeanours – can, and these days do, make headlines.
  • Minor betrayals, such as gossiping, finger-pointing, or taking credit for others’ work, are more pervasive than major betrayals and erode trust over time.

8. Rebuilding trust in seven steps

By practising these seven steps, you can muster courage, mend broken trust and move forward with a more engaged and energised workforce.

  • Observe and acknowledge what happened.
  • Provide people with nonthreatening environments in which to express their feelings and begin to work through them.
  • Get and give support.
  • Help people to see the bigger picture, such as the business reasons behind a set of decisions.
  • Hold yourself accountable, and also help others take responsibility and hold themselves accountable, too.
  • Forgive yourself and others.
  • Let go and move on.

9. Trust and individuals

In times of uncertainty, trust can break down at an organisational level, but often a problem with trust starts between two individuals or within one particular team.

  • Trust can and will from time to time break down or be threatened, and trust maintenance should be part of your behaviour.
  • Establish boundaries and manage expectations closely.
  • Make sure that both parties (you and them) are keeping agreements.
  • Set up regular checkpoints to ensure everyone is operating with mutually-serving (win/win) intentions and actions versus hidden agendas.
  • Follow up any inconsistencies in behaviour.
  • Then, build communication trust – share information; give constructive feedback regarding areas of opportunities and improvement.

10. Your role in helping others

Workplaces everywhere are full of victims: people who hang on to a sense of having been wronged and act out their hurt through their daily actions and negative attitudes. You can’t force someone to move from the victim posture to taking responsibility, but you can provide the support and perspective necessary to begin this process.

  • Create a safe space to talk with them about what was ‘done to them’ and the impact or cost to them.
  • Provide perspective; share your concern that they are holding themselves back and impacting others.
  • Help them see actions they can take to rebound from setbacks and adversity.
  • Hold yourself to the same standard as everyone else.
  • Exemplify an unmistakable commitment to facing reality, no matter how challenging that may be. Catch yourself when you might slip into the victim posture.

11. Getting and giving support

If you resist asking for support because you think leaders need to have all of the answers and ‘go it alone’, you may be missing out on the vital key that can unlock the door to your leadership potential.

  • It takes enormous strength and courage to ask for and truly engage with support.
  • You may find that what’s holding you back from being the leader you want to be is something that happened a long time ago.
  • The role of support is to provide a perspective that you may not be able to see.
  • You may have had no control over the situation that hurt you, but you most certainly do have control over how you respond.
  • People expect you to lead, and if support will help you be a better leader, it’s the right thing to do.
  • When you role-model asking for and receiving support, you let others know that it’s not only okay, but also great, for them to tap into the kind of support that will challenge them to take responsibility, let go, and move on.

12. Case studies

Three case studies illustrate the power of trust building:

  • In a global IT corporation facing restructuring, jobs were saved, morale and revenue rose and employees could participate in decisions
  • In a company in which employees found out about an impending merger via the media, trust was successfully rebuilt, staff turnover and absenteeism went down, while revenues and profits rose
  • In a multi-division corporation facing changes during an economic downturn, anxieties were faced, many jobs were saved, management became more sensitive to employees’ concerns, while the employees embraced the change

13. The Reina Trust quiz®

How well does your team practise behaviours that build trust? Ask yourself questions such as

  • Do we keep agreements or renegotiate if we cannot?
  • Do we openly admit and take responsibility for the mistakes we have made?
  • Do we acknowledge the skills and abilities of others?