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Your Secret Weapon for Building Trust in the Workplace

Most folks are surprised to learn that there’s more than honesty and integrity required to build trust in the workplace. In this 13-part series, we opened with the obvious dimensions of trust: honesty and integrity plus competence. As we proceed, some dimensions will be like secret weapons – you’ll know their importance and can leverage their impact while others are still focused too narrowly on too few dimensions. 

clarity-2If you’d like to catch up on posts you missed, you can find them in the CONNECT2Lead Blog. To assess yourself on the 12 Dimensions of Trust, download this free tool from People First Productivity Solutions.  

Why Trust Is So Fragile 

You’ve probably heard that it takes a long time for trust to be established but only a single incident can fracture trust that took years to build. 

Trust is fragile. It’s easily broken. A single sentence or act can shatter trust and make you question everything you believed about someone you trusted. Even when we allow for restoration of trust, the past incident will keep us on guard and fearful of it being broken again. 

Our disappointments carry over from one situation to another and from one relationship to another. Once burned, twice shy. The more our trust has been violated, the harder it is to extend that trust to others. Based on past experiences, we may also be quicker to mistrust even when there is insufficient cause.

When we trust, we are vulnerable. We believe, when trusting, that we are safe and can count on someone else. Violations of trust leave us feeling suckered and, in the workplace, may also leave us in precarious positions where work is not completed or commitments cannot be met. When we rely on others, our ability to perform rests partly in their performance. 

After suffering a breach of trust, we’re more likely to go it alone than to rely on others again. Rather than being vulnerable and at risk of underperformance, we become more self-reliant (even to the point of overworking, not delegating, getting burned out, etc.). 

Graphic Showing Blurry to ClearDisplaying a lack of trust in others creates barriers. Others won’t trust you either. Trust is reciprocal. The more you withhold trust, the less you’ll be trusted. The more you’re expecting people to violate your trust, the sooner they will because you’re pushing them in that direction. 

In the workplace, there are pressures that mount and impair our ability to trust each other. Competing priorities, hasty meetings, KPIs, unrealistic expectations of others, heavy workloads, and barely having time to get acquainted with colleagues… the list is endless. It’s difficult to build trust when you are at odds with or don’t really know the other party. The default response is to remain guarded and mistrust others. 

All of this boils down to a misguided sense of self-protection. Trust is fragile because we are fragile. 

Trust In the Workplace Isn’t Automatic 

In the workplace, trust is not automatically given. At first, we earn trust by demonstrating competence. Over time, we prove our honesty and integrity. Those dimensions of trust are absolute. There is no room for exceptions. There aren’t many second chances available here.

If we take time to get acquainted with colleagues, we also respond to other characteristics and behaviors. Subconsciously, we trust people who display the 12 Dimensions of Trust more frequently.  

When someone is reliable, steady, predictable, and consistent in their choices and positions, you begin to believe you can count on them. You know where they stand and how they’ll respond. Their consistency fosters trust. 

This is true even when someone is consistent in displaying negative behaviors. You’ll trust the guardian of the status quo, for example, who always resists change and lives by the motto “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” You may not agree or like the guardian’s stance, but you can rely on it and, therefore, know how to respond to and anticipate it. 

You’re less likely to trust someone who displays erratic behavior or who vacillates in their opinions. When people are unpredictable and inconsistent, the natural response is to remain guarded. Trusting this unpredictable person makes us feel too vulnerable. 

Consistency is the third Dimension of Trust. We take comfort in consistency, in knowing what to expect, and in not feeling like the rug could be pulled out from under us at any moment.  

In the workplace, consistent performance is valued more than performance that swings between extreme highs and lows. In workplace relationships, stability and steadiness matter. Feeling safe is linked to feeling like you know what to expect and won’t be blindsided by unpredictable interactions. 

Because trust is not automatically bestowed, being mindful of the behaviors that build trust (and the ones that impair trust) is essential.  

Behaviors that Demonstrate Consistency and Predictability 

To create a feeling of safety and to nurture trust, check your behaviors. Are they predictable from one day to the next? Are you consistent enough that people know and understand you? Here’s the 1-2-3 formula for this dimension of trust that ultimately improves team effectiveness. 

1. Be consistent. Know what you want, what your values are, and what your priorities are. Make decisions that reflect your values, help you reach your goals, and keep you on track with your priorities. Don’t be like a rudderless ship that aimlessly floats whichever way the wind blows.

With clarity about your own goals, values, and priorities, you’ll become more predictable. You won’t be trying to please other people all the time, bouncing from one position to another or from one task to another. If you would like a resource for developing this type of clarity for yourself, check out this webinar

2. Be knowable. Knowing it yourself is the right place to start. Once you know your goals, values, and priorities, share what they are, where they came from, and why they matter to you. This will provide context for others so they can better understand and predict your decisions and actions. 

Letting others know you also helps them trust you and become less guarded. Good, old-fashioned, human-to-human connections count.  

3. Create clarity. Once you have clarity about yourself and share that with others, you’re setting an example. Others can create clarity for themselves. Teams can do the same type of work to collaborate more effectively where there are overlapping goals, values and priorities. 

The impact of clarity is that there won’t be big surprises. People know what to expect. They know what’s expected. They can deliver more consistently. Clarity yields consistency, and consistency enables trust. 

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