How to Make Habit of Trust

Do you have a firm belief in the reliability, truthfulness, ability, and strength of your team members? Do they have a firm belief in your’s? That’s the definition of trust. If you answered, “Yes” to those questions read no further. If you have any question about it . . .

In my post on the Engager Dynamic called Trust, I wrote about the importance of trust in the workplace and about what the atmosphere is like without it. It might be worth a minute to follow the link and read that post.

When I talk about trust I don’t mean that we don’t “inspect what we expect” for example. Often trust is built by inspection. When you are the one who sets clear expectations, you are the one who can determine whether or not they’ve been met. You do that by inspecting the work. Inspection provides an opportunity for clarifying conversations that improve communication. It also provides a great opportunity to coach and recognize people for their work. These things build trust.

Putting it to Work

There are two fall-outs from lack of trust I want to highlight.

  1. Wasted Energy – When trust is low, time and energy are spent writing extra policies and work rules, and making sure they’re being followed by tracking discipline. People waste energy on CYA emails and conversations, and on trying to figure out what so-and-so is up to. All that time and energy slows down every process and raises cost.
  2. Misdirected Conversations – You might argue this is a subset of the first one but it merits its own space. If you get a lot of what I call “Tattletale” conversations, there is low trust on your team or in your organization. A tattletale conversation is when someone comes to you to let you know or to ask you about what someone else did or said. It may be cleverly disguised as an FYI or a CC or BCC on an email, but if it feels like you’re being asked to step in somehow, its a tattletale conversation.

Trust, by definition, is a belief . According to the book Change the Culture, Change the Game by Roger Connors and Tom Smith, beliefs are derived from experiences. The people who waste energy and have misdirected conversations have learned from their experience that someone or some thing is not trustworthy. Find out about those experiences and you’ll be on your way to building trust. What caused them to lose trust?

Making it a Habit

It follows that once you’ve identified what experiences taught people not to trust, you need to change those experiences so they will begin to trust. Experiences come in the form of words spoken or actions observed. Here are three things you can do to make a habit of trust building:

  1. Use only constructive words – make sure that whatever you say is useful for building up the person who hears it. Words are rarely neutral. They either build up or tear down. Even corrective words can build up when they are about actions or behaviors and not about the person.
  2. Never speak behind someone’s back – it is unwise to talk negatively about someone who is not present. The person hearing it most likely can do nothing about what you’re saying and it leaves them wondering what you say about them when they’re not around.
  3. Guide directed conversation – turn tattletale conversations into constructive conversations by bringing together the parties and “refereeing” their discussion. The next time someone comes to you with a story about what someone else did or said, bring the other person into the room and facilitate their interaction. You might be surprised at how well things get resolved. This will signal people to stop talking behind other’s backs and teach them to directly interact with the person with whom they have an issue.

There is a principle called the “Law of Sowing and Reaping” which says, “You always reap what you sow. You always reap more than you sow. You always reap in a different season than you sow.” This wisdom applies to trust building. Though it may seem counter-intuitive if you’re a person not given to trusting people easily, how can you build trust if you don’t first learn to trust?

Start sharing knowledge you used to hold as power over people. Start giving out more responsibility. It may seem risky and people will let you down, but the crop you reap will be well worth the investment.

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