Why Trust Matters so Much at Work

Trust is about knowing I can count on you and that you’ll have my back. And we need it at work every bit as much as in our personal lives. People who trust their employer and colleagues are more willing to take prudent risks, see mistakes as learning opportunities and remain more loyal to the organization.  
 
“Trusting relationships enable people to have greater influence on others, be a meaningful part of a team and organization and make a difference,” says Simon T. Bailey, entrepreneur, life coach and author of Be the Spark. “A high-trust culture enables people to be heard, to step up in important ways and to be the spark that makes a difference in teams and organizations.”
 
Without trust, fear
When employees don’t trust their colleagues, leaders and organizations, they operate out of fear. The result is team members who hide problems, offer fewer ideas and are reluctant to make decisions, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. A lack of trust becomes a major business expense because it creates inefficiency and decreased productivity. Energy is diverted from creative problem solving to counter-productive behaviors such as infighting, covering up mistakes, self-protection and silence even when there’s dissent.
 
A recent Trust Outlook survey of working-age adults found that people would often be willing to offer more ideas, work longer hours and remain with their current employer if they trusted their leaders more.
 
The Trust Equation
Co-author of the book, The Trusted Advisor, Charles Green, has developed an online self-assessment that measures an individual’s “trust quotient.” He says trust is composed of four key attributes: credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-orientation. The first three elements work together and are then divided, or diminished, by how much you believe someone is acting in her own self-interest. The model is used in the Stanford University Graduate Business School.
 
Credibility is about how believable you are to others. That translates most often in the workplace to how well-equipped you are for your current role and whether you perform in a high-quality manner. If you are new to a role, that means not hiding that you are a novice but instead demonstrating that you are striving to learn and improve. If you find yourself doubting someone else’s credibility, ask focused questions to better understand how their experience and skills are influencing their decisions.
 
Reliability is how dependable you are. Sure, it sounds a little boring but would you rather work with a leader who has a million ideas and follows through on none of them or the person who delivers what’s promised? You can build your own reputation for reliability by having a bias for action, hitting the marks you have set for yourself or agreed to, and seeking help early when insurmountable obstacles arise.
 
Intimacy reflects how safe people feel sharing with you. The word “authenticity” is also sometimes used. How true is your presented self to your real self? Leaders may keep some emotional distance from those they supervise, but presenting a fake image will decrease trust. When you share honest concerns about challenges, it helps other trust that what they see they can believe. The same is true for respecting confidentiality. If something is shared with you in confidence, it almost always needs to stay that way.
 
Self-orientation or self-interest lowers trust. If a leader or colleague seems more focused on how a project will make her look rather than accomplishing shared goals, it will raise alarms and decrease trust. Giving earned credit to others and using collective language such as “we” and “us” rather than I can help combat this issue.
 
A breakdown in trust can derail relationships and hinder the productivity of teams, departments and even organizations. You can tilt the Trust Equation in your favor by:
  • Actively demonstrating your capabilities
  • Doing what you say you will do
  • Presenting yourself as the person you are
  • Downplaying your self-interest and focusing on the larger picture
 
Trust is fundamental to being an effective contributor and leader, especially during times of rapid change and challenge. Now is the perfect time to build yours.
 

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