We spend probably 30% of our life working so doing something meaningful in an environment where we can work hard and be successful, be part of a team and feel and be appreciated, is important. In order to do these things one important ingredient is having good relationships, with our boss, coworkers, reports and others we come in contact with. This does not mean everyone has to be friends, but it does mean being able to trust and be trusted.

As I go about my coaching work, I increasingly see how important trust is for leaders and organizations and how little it is really understood and appreciated. I don’t think I’ve had a conversation with a client where the issue has not come up. Leaders generally see themselves as people with good intent, who are working hard, managing human and financial resources to meet the organization’s stated mission. There is an implicit assumption or expectation that everyone trusts them because they are the leader. They generally see themselves as encouraging, helpful and nice people and therefore trustworthy. However, actions speak louder than words – it not what you say, it’s what you do - that telegraphs the work culture.

I know this is how I thought about trust in my various roles. As I reflect back I can see how my behavior and those of people around me affected trust levels, in good and bad ways. I sometimes wish I had been more aware of some of the things I’m talking about in this article but as Maya Angelou says, “I did then what I knew to do. Now that I know better, I do better” and I bring this awareness to my coaching. I urge leaders working to build a productive and healthy organization to pay attention to trust.

Identifying The Problem

Here are a few questions for reflection:

  • Do you hesitate to express what you think or feel for fear of being judged or because you’re not sure it will be kept confidential?
  • Do you keep confidences when people at work share with you?
  • Are team meetings a safe place to express yourself?
  • How do you respond in meetings when someone says something that doesn’t fit with your perspective?
  • Are you comfortable asking colleagues for help when things get busy?
  • Do you help others when they ask?
  • Do you feel acknowledged when you do something well?
  • Do you recognize others for their accomplishments?
  • Do others take credit for your successes or assign blame when things go wrong?
  • When people say they will do something by a certain time do they do it?
  • Do you fulfill your commitments?
  • Do people in your workplace talk negatively about other people? Do you?

The answers to these questions will help you assess if trust is an issue in your workplace. The level of trust can have a huge impact on everyone’s ability to be productive, successful and feel fulfilled at work. Trust levels can be a huge boost or drag on organization.

Pay Attention To The Signs

Here’s just one simple example of how a lack of trust can play itself out. It’s not always easy to tell what’s at issue and maybe the main point of the example is to listen carefully.

I was working with a client who was feeling uncertainty about some of her work priorities. She was expected/encouraged to focus on activities that didn’t really fit within her responsibilities and it was taking away from her primary job. She enjoyed the additional assignment and was good at it. But, she was uncomfortable with her attention being drawn away from her main responsibilities. She raised this with her supervisor and was reassured that it wasn’t a problem and was told not to worry.

Her initial reaction was, well if my supervisor says its ok, why worry? However, she continued to feel uncomfortable. Why was she not convinced by the reassurance of her supervisor? She finally acknowledged that she didn’t know if her supervisor would have her back if she was criticized for letting some of her other duties slide. It became clear that something had happened to her or she had witnessed her supervisor behaving in a manner that weakened her level of trust. I bet if her supervisor was told there was a trust issue she wouldn’t believe it.

I often hear people say all the right words about why they can be trusted but often the opposite is true. They fail to recognize how their behavior can undermine trust.

In order to help my clients recognize this behavior I use the “ABCD Trust Model” presented by Ken Blanchard in his book “Trust Works!”. This model is based on behaviors that are easily understood in any context, personal or professional. As Blanchard describes, “it’s all about perception and trust is in the eye of the beholder”. In the above example, the supervisor may not have any idea of how their behavior had contributed to a lack of trust. If they understand what’s going on, they can do the work necessary to repair/build trust.

The ABCD Trust model:

Able – are you able to deliver, are you competent and do you have skills?
Believable – do you keep confidences, tell the truth and show respect?
Connected – are you connected to others, do you care, listen and show empathy?
Dependable – are you accountable, consistent and there for others.

I use an exercise from Blanchard’s book as an awareness tool for clients to help them identify their behaviors that build or erode trust. It is designed to assess how trustful they think they are. In addition I use it to introduce/identify ways they behave that affects trust and help them think about ways others are behaving that impacts their ability to trust.

What now?

Trust is a huge issue in organizations affecting productivity and wellness. The first step is being aware. Leaders need to examine their behaviors and those of others in the organization. They need to start by taking a hard look at themselves and asking, are you able, believable, connected and dependable? And if not, improvements in trust levels can be made, with commitment and patience. The results will be a better more productive and healthy organization.





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