I don’t trust you. Now what?
We are living in a time of profound distrust.
We don’t trust the financial markets or corporate America. We don’t trust our national leaders or institutions. (This week’s NBC/WSJ poll showed disapproval of Congress at 82 percent, the lowest in the history of the poll. Obama’s disapproval ratings are his all-time low ? on par with Bush’s after Hurricane Katrina.)
Since 2007’s recessionary hack job, employees remain deeply suspicious of management. This is particularly concerning when an employee’s relationship to his or her manager is the number one predictor of job satisfaction and retention.
As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, polls show that the majority of Americans don’t trust that we’re any safer. We don’t even trust the future to be brighter.
This lack of trust is killing us: one retrenched company, one stalled decision, one missed opportunity at a time.
And yet at the core of our humanity, we can’t stop yearning for trust.
In executive coaching sessions, trust is a common topic. Clients struggle with building ? and bridging ? trust with coworkers, supervisors, employees, new hires, and customers. We want to trust others at our truest and deepest levels. When it’s absent, it creates serious stress and disaffection. We crave trustful relationships with everyone around us, and especially those with whom we’re closely interconnected. After all, we can’t easily walk away from our jobs, family or country.
So what’s a culture founded on optimistic possibility to do? Should we simply give up on trust as a hallmark of some bygone Pollyanna era?
Or do we try to put some trust back into the world, one person, one relationship at a time.
If you clicked on this article, you may be struggling with a relationship that could use more trust. Whether it’s someone at work, or in your personal life, I bet you’d much rather have the trust back. You may feel you’re out of options. Perhaps you’ve tried a few approaches that didn’t work. Or you may be too reluctant to risk your own comfort or safety by putting yourself out there.
My go-to source for extending trust and fixing a broken trust dynamic is The Trusted Advisor by Maister, Green and Galford. I’ve written about it before — it’s both a diagnostic for what’s wrong, and a path for moving forward. It’s fitting that Charles H. Green with co-author Andrea Howe is about to publish the Trusted Advisor Fieldbook — we need an injection of trust building right about now. (For some immediate inspiration, check out their ebook.)
The authors’ thesis is based on The Trust Equation, which deduces how we form feelings of trust:
(Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy)/Self-Orientation = Trust
In their model, credibility is your experience and reliability is your consistency. These two variables are what we commonly consider when we try to increase our own trustworthiness — we try to be good, smart and deliver more. But it’s the other two variables that get interesting because they are less often considered yet have great power. Intimacy is being able to speak and receive the truth. Self-orientation describes how focused you are on your own interests versus those of the other person.
When trust is broken, intimacy and self-orientation hold the promise for repair. In my experience, there are two key moves on any table that can still be taken. If you want to build trust, try these.
1) Do something for the other person that is against your own selfish interest. When it’s clear that we’re prepared to subjugate our own ego for the sake of the relationship, it can shake up the entire dynamic. Consider these trust-building moves, as examples:
- Give away something meaningful to you without the expectation of return
- Give a difficult colleague credit for a project
- Forego your bonus so an employee can have a raise
- Proactively reveal a product or service weakness to a customer
- Offer to tackle a project your company needs, but is outside your job
2) Speak the truth and ask for honesty. Intimacy is a virtuous or destructive cycle. If we withhold or obscure the truth, we get self-protective falsehoods in return. And back and forth. When one person dares to speak honestly (and back to #1 which may not be in his or her self-interest) then it opens the door for the other person to do the same. Eventually truth builds trust. And trust builds respect.
Now let’s have a Pollyanna moment. Imagine if Congress did #1, and supported good ideas across the aisle. We’d have true compromise. If there were a commitment to speaking the truth, in all its messiness, we could tackle issues in their entirety rather than pushing politically expedient Band-Aid solutions.
It’s not wishful thinking when it comes to personal trust issues. You can adopt these principles in any interpersonal dynamic, at any time.
I realize not everyone in the world wants or expects trust in their relationships. So you may find these ideas falling flat. But I know for sure that most of us do want to trust our co-workers, friends, and institutions.
I’ll choose trust over cynicism any day. You?
(Also posted on Forbes.com)
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