Trust can have different meanings for different people in different contexts. Without trust, people feel vulnerable. When people feel vulnerable, they are less likely to contribute to team discussions or to exert that vital extra effort when it is needed and are more likely to focus on leaving the organisation or justifying their continued employment – all of which have a negative impact.
Conversely, organisations, where there are high levels of trust, are more likely to be open, honest, empathetic, collaborative and constructive – all of which lead to higher levels of innovation and productivity. Trust, therefore, is a critical workplace issue – and one that it is surprisingly easy to get wrong.
Workplace theorists will tell you that there are two types of trust – practical (you get the job done) and emotional (people think you are on their side). Both are key in a successful organisation – and tend to be missing in failing organisations. In the workplace, trust includes the feeling that bosses will back you up, that employees will be treated fairly and that setbacks will be generally understood, rather than becoming a font of criticism.
Trust is the foundation for building strong teams, developing effective relationships with both peers and the work itself, creating a positive work culture, encouraging people to work more effectively and boosting productivity. Trust is a key factor in management as, without trust, there can be no genuine leadership.
How can leaders – at any level of an organisation – build trust in the workplace? In essence, it comes down to doing what you say you are going to do. Some important ways of building trust include:
- Understanding that trust must be earned – and that respect works two ways
- Telling the truth – not telling people what you think they want to hear
- Engaging in honest dialogue – which means (actively) listening, not just talking
- Doing what you say you will do – consistently
- Modelling the behaviour you are trying to build – if people can see what you are doing and understand why you are doing it, they are more likely to trust what you are doing
- Acknowledging mistakes as well as achievements – people who believe they are never wrong are highly irritating
- Taking responsibility for failures – people like honesty and transparency
- Being predictable – making a habit of not doing what you say you will do leads to an instinctive mistrust
Some theorists argue that trust within an organisation can be measured and therefore can be improved and developed. Charles Green has developed a trust equation that combines the perception of credibility (trusting what someone says), the perception of reliability (trusting what someone does); intimacy (entrusting someone with something) and the perception of self-orientation (whether your focus is primarily on yourself or others). In essence, because credibility, reliability and intimacy are summed and then divided by self-orientation, the quickest way to increase levels of trust in you is to focus on others.
The Edelman trust barometer is an annual survey of trust globally, analysing how over 33,000 respondents (divided into the informed public and mass population) feel about economic well-being, national security and public policy, information and knowledge and social causes and issues. Trust at work matters – in fact, 75% of respondents said they trusted their employer more than non-governmental organisations (57%), business (56%), government (48%) or media (47%). Apart from being enough to make your editor choke on his cornflakes (how can one in two people really believe what is written in Gulf Insider?), it underlines the importance of trust at work in a seemingly increasingly untrustworthy world.
Trust, of course, is a two-way street. Remember that it is hard to win and easy to lose – and once it is lost, it is even harder to re-establish – as the old Arabic proverb goes: la yuldagh al momen min johr maratain (The believer is not stung twice from the same hole, or fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me).