At the most basic level, the need to trust implies one fundamental fact: you’re vulnerable. The ability to satisfy your needs or obtain the outcomes you desire is not entirely under your control.
That observation is the foundation for David DeSteno’s book The Truth About Trust. He argues that trust is a fundamental element of all human relationships. Because our needs and the needs of other people rarely align perfectly, our brains have evolved to spend a great deal of energy assessing the potential for conflict and the degree to which others are trustworthy in any given situation. For a good summary of the book, check out this review.
These days we rarely wonder if the neighbors in the next cave will share their fire, but trust is still crucial. To be successful in the complexity of modern society we have to depend on mutual trust and cooperation.
According to DeSteno, the bad news is that we’re not very good at determining who is trustworthy. The industry built around books, assessments, and even brain scanning doesn’t have a good track record of success. Even cues from facial expressions aren’t reliable. For example, what is your impression of this person’s mood? Would you be comfortable to approach him?
One strategy that can help is to focus on the whole context of the interaction. As the picture below indicates, Milos Raonic wasn’t angry – he was actually ecstatic after advancing to the next round in a tennis tournament. Similarly, the job applicant who isn’t making eye contact might not be indicating lack of trustworthiness – she might be using her cultural traditions to indicate respect.
DeSteno says that we can learn strategies to improve our ability to trust others appropriately and encourage them to trust us. Here are some of his tips:
- Trust is risky, but necessary, useful, and even powerful: withholding trust unnecessarily can limit success
- Trust is contextual: try to understand a person’s motives in the current context rather than relying on reputation or past experiences
- Rely on your intuition, but be informed about nonverbal cues and situational factors that can influence your judgment
What actions have other people taken that inspires you to trust them?
Dee Anne Bonebright
A missed meeting, a forgotten call, a misunderstood comment, making a tough decision or just screwing up – crash! Trust is broken. What now?
I know I have experienced the challenge of rebuilding a trusted relationship. Sometimes it feels impossible, yet other times it can be done. Why is that?
You may be like me and wonder why with some people trust shatters with the slightest bump and with others it takes a giant jolt to disrupt two-way trust. The Harvard Business Review recently published a summary of a research project that looked at differences between people in maintaining and restoring trust. The four researchers discovered that our mindset regarding growth actually influences our trust in other people. If we have a fixed mindset, meaning we believe that people’s attributes are stable, we will tend to maintain trust or maintain distrust and actually overlook or ignore current interactions or behaviors. On the other hand, people with a growth mindset, who believe that attributes can be developed and changed, pay attention to current behaviors. This means they develop and lose trust quickly and also can quickly rebuild their trust in others!
Understanding our own and others’ mindset can help us take action when we inevitably need to rebuild trust. For those on our teams who have a growth mindset, we should be prepared to continually take small actions to demonstrate trustworthiness. Even if you have strong relationships, they are looking at what you have done recently. Apologizing and quick statements reinforcing your integrity will be heard and accepted.
Losing the trust of someone with a fixed mindset is tougher. When it happens you need to prepare for a longer and more challenging effort to restore trust. Small actions will be ignored and they will be looking for long-term evidence that you are trustworthy. In fact, you may need to first focus on the idea that people can change and look for examples of people who have successfully made changes. Then you can move on to providing repeated examples of your interest in rebuilding the relationship.
Experiencing the crash of breaking trust is never good but it is a reality for leaders. Learning how to repair a shattered relationship with everyone on your team can help you keep moving forward.
Ken Blanchard is a thought leader in management and leadership. As Todd mentioned in an earlier post, Blanchard’s organization has been focusing on leadership and trust. They published this article that describes a four-part model of trust:
The following eight steps can help you be an able, believable, connected, and dependable leader – a trusted leader:
- Demonstrate trust in those you work with. For example, deal with problems on an individual basis rather than creating blanket policies to address one person’s bad behavior.
- Share information. Provide data to help people think broadly about the organization and its inter-relationships.
- Tell it straight. Demonstrate integrity, even (or especially?) about bad news.
- Help everyone win. Provide opportunities for collaboration rather than competition.
- Provide regular and ongoing feedback, and ensure that those who report to you do the same.
- Address concerns directly. Deal with challenges head-on and provide an opportunity for others who are involved to weigh in.
- Admit mistakes. Create a culture where it’s acceptable for people to admit when they are wrong and correct their mistakes.
- Walk the talk. Demonstrate the idea that “we are all in this together.”
Trust is an essential component of effective leadership. It’s also fragile and easily damaged. How do you maintain the ABCDs of trust?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Some friends and I were comparing techniques that our parents used to clear the scary monsters from our bedrooms. Opening closet doors, shining flashlights under our beds, shooing them away with a broom, my dad used his “dad” voice to scare them, or comforting words to assure us that we were safe in our house and the monsters couldn’t get in. Phew, we remembered how good it felt to fall asleep, safely.
Flash-forward to today and your work world. What keeps you up at night? Certainly things like financial constraints, new competition, changing technology, uncertain regulations and the economy can scare us all. As leaders we also need to ask, what keeps our people up at night?
Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last, suggests that good leaders make their people feel safe at work. In his 2014 TED Talk, Sinek describes the responsibility leaders to behave in ways that create trust and safety at work, because “When we feel safe inside the organization, we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.”
I have worked with leaders who helped people feel safe by:
- providing opportunities to succeed
- supporting development and education
- recognizing success
- building self-confidence
- accepting mistakes
- encouraging new ideas
- treating people as individuals
Overall they demonstrated that they trusted their people and their work.
How can you use your “leadership flashlight” to keep the scary work monsters at bay for your people so that they can be fully engaged at work?
About ten years ago, I was attending a session by the Great Places to Work Institute, where the speaker was talking about the key elements that make an organization a great place to work. As you might know, one of those elements is trust. As he was talking about building trust he said, “There are no trust neutral interactions.”
That statement has stuck with me since that time. In fact, I’ve found it profound at a very basic level, to realize that every interaction I have has the potential to build trust or break down trust. Every conversation I have with a colleague, every meeting I participate in, and every project team I contribute to, I have the opportunity to build trust or the occasion to break it down.
This month, we will be exploring another leadership competency: building trust. This is an essential skill that leaders need in order to build and maintain effective working relationships. We’ll look at building trust from both the interpersonal and organizational level. We hope you will join us in this important dialogue and share what you have learned about building trust in your leadership journey.