The Trouble with Trust

In my last post I started out writing about trust and it sort of morphed into something else. Let’s see if I can stay on track this time…

Trust! It’s vital to any positive relationship. While I suppose we can have some sort of relationship without trust it seems to me that it wouldn’t be a relationship that we would truly value.

The trouble with trust is that it is fragile. Very, very fragile.

If you’re actually going to lead people then trust is even more vital. I don’t know a leader, any type of leader, who would intentionally destroy the trust of their people and yet, destroy it they do!

Whether by accident, by mistake or by simple thoughtlessness, trust is damaged by leaders every day. Once the damage is done it can take years and tremendous effort to repair it.

So what are the “accidental” destroyers of trust? Well here are just a few “accidents” that leaders sometimes make without even thinking.

Broken Promises
Your leadership is only as good as your word. This one seems obvious but it depends on the definition someone applies to the word “promise.” What you as a leader might think is a kind of throw-away noncommittal answer your people may take as a promise. Make your communications clear, concise and definite to avoid this issue.

Changing the “Rules”
There are two challenges here, one is actually changing the rules in the middle of the game and the other one is applying the rules differently to different people. It has taken me a long time to understand how “gray” life really is, black and white rules, orderly processes and zero “exceptions” would be a easy way to live. It’s also an unrealistic way to lead. Your ability to apply “the rules” equally will determine your effectiveness as a leader. So if I were you, I’d be perusing your organization’s policy manual to get rid of unnecessary rules and regulations. The more unneeded “rules” you have the more likely you are to put yourself in a tough spot when it comes to applying then equally.

Shirking Your Responsibilities
Your people won’t do more than they see you doing. You can ask your people to move mountains and they will, IF they see you pushing with them. If they get to the mountain only to see you in your LazyBoy then don’t expect great things from them. While you’re relaxing your credibility is going down the drain and the trust of your people is going with it.

Public Criticism
I get the fact that sometimes your emotions “win” and you just let loose with a barrage of criticism in front of the team. That causes lots of problems but here is the big one: not only did you destroy the trust of the person you criticized, you destroyed the trust of the rest of the team too. They are just waiting for their “turn” to be flogged in front of their colleagues. The likely result is that they don’t trust you enough to be honest with you. Their efforts begin to center around protecting themselves… from you.

Avoided Conflict
This is a hard one because it is kind of counterintuitive. On the surface, conflict would seem to erode trust but the opposite is actually true. If you’re an Authentic Servant Leader then you care enough to confront with compassion. That builds trust because your people always know where they stand and they know what is expected of them. If you are a conflict avoider then you are NOT helping anyone. You’re simply allowing the conflict to fester and grow. Whether you realize it or not unresolved conflict negatively affects your relationships with the people around you. No one knows what you really think, they don’t know where they stand with you and as a result, their trust level goes down.

Running from or ignoring conflict is no way to lead. Do yourself a favor and stop considering conflict to be about fighting and start considering it to be about resolution, relationship and trust building. If you can’t build trust you’ll find it very difficult to lead, some might even say impossible to lead.

I could go on and on about situations that harm trust. It is just so darn easy to damage and so darn hard to repair. So I’ll leave you with a bit of advice from Dale Carnegie: when you’re wrong admit it quickly and empathically.

If you’re leading people you’re going to make mistakes. Some of those mistakes will make it harder for your people to trust you. Failing to acknowledge your mistake harms your credibility even more. 

You’re people actually DO want to trust you, make it as easy for them as you possibly can.

Trust is no Accident

I’m putting the finishing touches on a new program I’m going to present for the first time next week. I’m pretty sure I’ll title it “Building a Trusted Relationship.” It has been fascinating to research the subject of trust.

I’ve learned a lot.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that trust rarely just happens; it must be earned. More than that, it must be intentionally and repeatedly earned. Pretty much everything you say and do, everyday, either adds to or subtracts from, the level of trust that somebody has in you.

Once earned it must be protected like it’s your prized possession. Actually if trust isn’t one of your prized possessions then your likely not doing enough to earn it intentionally and repeatedly.

Trust is amazingly fragile; while it is usually a long slow process to build and maintain trust, it can be destroyed in an instant. It doesn’t have to be something big that destroys it either, it can be something that seems almost trivial…. except to the person whose trust has been lost.

Lots of honest people aren’t trusted. It’s not because they have done something to lose the trust of those around them, it’s because they have done nothing to earn it. You see, there seems to be two distinct types of people in the world. Those who trust you until you do something to destroy that trust and those who won’t trust you until you do something to earn it.

Sadly, it appears the later group is growing.

The class I’m preparing is 3 hours long so the “how to” build trust part of this post could go on a very long time. It won’t, but let me sum it up for you like this:

If you want to earn the trust of the people you interact with then just be you. Whatever you are, you’re better off as you then you are trying to be somebody you’re not. When you try to “fake it” there is so much to remember; who you told what and when you told them. How you should dress when you’re with this person or that one. How you speak and which words do you use.

When you mess around like that you WILL be found out. You just can’t fool anyone forever. Life is so much easier, earning the trust of others is so much easier, when you’re just you. Research shows that the average person lies 7 times a day. My own little very unscientific research says the vast majority of those lies are people trying to project an image that isn’t really them. And yes, those little white lies are still lies, no matter how much you want to believe them.

I don’t suppose this has always been true for me but at this point in my life it certainly is – I’d rather be thought of as an honest idiot than a dishonest genius.

It really makes no difference whether you’re trying to build trust as a leader, as a sales professional or just a person living life; if you can’t maintain trust in a relationship then you can’t maintain the relationship.

Do not take the trust of others for granted. Building trust isn’t something that happens, it is something you do. You may be the most trustworthy person on the planet but if you’re not proactively building trust then trust most certainly will not be built.

Build yourself a bit of trust today….. and everyday!