When it comes to success, trust is key

Audrey Epstein

The phrase “trust in the workplace” may draw laughs from some, worried looks from others and a lot of questions from everyone else.

That’s because a recent HBR survey shows that more than half or 58 percent of people say they trust strangers more than their own boss. It’s a phenomenon Audrey Epstein, a leadership development expert and partner in the Trispective Group, considers cause for concern in every company.

“It’s very hard for us to accomplish important results at work without trust,” Epstein says. “When there is distrust in an organization, people are less productive and unwilling to take a risk. Instead, people spend their time and energy worrying about things like: What’s his real agenda? Will anyone have my back if I put myself out there? Can I speak my truth without getting shot down?”

Trust is the foundation
Businesses may believe conversations about trust need to be defensive or aggressive – but they really need to be based on curiosity and understanding, Epstein says. Trust is the foundation for “strong, productive relationships, teams and organizations,” she adds.

“When we have trust with others, it gives us the confidence to be bolder and braver and to be ourselves. We don’t have to worry about politics or what’s happening behind the scenes or some backroom maneuvering,” Epstein says. “I wanted to focus on trust because it’s both absolutely foundational for strong teams and cultures AND hard to describe and define. I think it’s very important for us to think deeply about what we have done to build or destroy trust with others.”

How to build trust
So how do you build trust and change people’s perspectives? Here are some of Epstein’s best tips for when you hear as a boss or co-worker, “I don’t trust you.”

—“It all depends on how we look at things, and not how they are in themselves.” – Carl Jung. People have very different standards for judging if someone is trustworthy. For some people, it’s all about fulfilling commitments. Did you do what you said you would do? Are you accountable for your results? For others, it’s about authenticity, vulnerability, and connection. Did you show that you cared about them? Were you open and honest about who you are? Did you disclose something more personal about yourself that demonstrated trust? And yet for others, it’s about loyalty and candor. Did you stand up for me when I wasn’t around? Did you gossip about me or tell me to my face?

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” –Ernest Hemingway. As much as you want to be seen as trustworthy, how hard do you make people work before they earn your trust? Some of us grant everyone trust right away, as soon as we meet them. We assume they deserve our trust until they break it. Some of us don’t trust anyone until they have earned it. But once they have, they enjoy unlimited trust with us. Think about how you extend trust to others and ensure you aren’t making it so difficult for others to earn your trust that you are preventing relationships from forming or progressing. Don’t “secret test” people. Let them know what you expect and help them build trust with you quickly. In business, we often don’t have the years we might enjoy in personal relationships to slowly build up trust. We have to form the team quickly. We have three months to complete the project. Others sense it when you are distrustful. By withholding trust, you may actually be creating a more difficult road for yourself to get things done at work. Don’t make others distrust you by being distrustful.

—”Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” – Benjamin Franklin. If you break trust, own it immediately. Apologize fully. Most of the time, we do not break trust with intent. We are not intending to break a commitment, share a confidence, take credit for someone else’s accomplishment. But stuff happens. When you believe you may have created distrust with someone else, confess quickly. Apologize for the impact. Ask how you can rebuild trust.

—“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.” – Mahatma Ghandi. Practice forgiveness. Don’t hold others to impossible, perfect standards that you wouldn’t want to be held to. Remember that their mistake may be different than one you would make, but we all transgress. Be clear with others on your needs and your expectations. Create candor in your relationships. Tell others if you believe they have broken trust. Allow them to fix things and accept their apologies. Holding on to that wrong can really weigh you down. Being able to forgive is often more for you than the person you are forgiving and can help continue to build trust between you and your colleagues.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” – Ken Blanchard. If someone says they don’t trust you, don’t freak out. Don’t take it so personally that your righteous indignation keeps you from finding out what is at the core of this challenge. Remember, trust is a big word with many meanings. Dig in and find out what happened.

—“You can always control you! So, start with yourself. Reflect on how trustworthy you are. And think about how you extend trust to others. Personalize trust by choosing one or two important relationships you need to make stronger. Then, go work on them.  Own them and be willing to do more than 50 percent to build or rebuild trust,” Epstein says. “If you are in a leadership position, work really hard to create an environment where others can be honest, provide feedback, and get their thoughts on the table. Trust and candor go hand and hand. The more trust people have, the more they will be candid and speak up. And the more they can speak up and say the tough stuff in the room, the more you will build trust in your culture.”

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Karen Dybis
Karen is an editor and writer for Corp! Magazine. She graduated from the University of Michigan and has worked at The Mackinac Island Town Crier, The Kalamazoo Gazette, The (Adrian) Daily Telegram and The Oakland Press. Karen was a Detroit News business writer with stints in retail, workplace issues and personal finance. Dybis also was a blogger on Time magazine's "Assignment: Detroit" project. She is author of four Michigan history books, including "Secret Detroit" and "The Witch of Delray."