Choosing to Trust
August 4, 2011
CEO, Clarus Works
TopicsAccountability, Responsibility, Trust
One of the most honoring gifts we can give someone is choosing to grant them our trust.
The choice to grant trust is not the same thing as having a default position of trusting people until they prove they can’t be trusted. Choosing to trust someone requires that you mindfully choose to build trust with them, not that you give them a chance to prove they are trustworthy.
Our natural inclination is to trust people we feel affinity towards. We may initially choose the level at which we are willing to trust someone based on a gut feeling, but experience is the real test. Our experiences over time with another will either serve to build a stronger level of trust or weaken it.
We also tend to make a blanket assessment about trust – we either trust someone or we don’t. Yet trust is far more complex than this simple assessment reveals. Trust has many dimensions including reliability, competence, and sincerity. If I hire a contractor I may find that they have great skills and believe they want to do a great job, but I may discover that they are not reliable when it comes to showing up when they say they will. We may also choose to trust someone completely in one domain, but not in another. For example, just because I trust someone to clean my house does not mean I should also automatically trust them to care for my child.
Regardless of whether we approach trust from the point of view that people have to earn our trust or that we trust first, real trust can only be established in a relationship based on experience.
At its most basic level we choose to trust someone when we make a specific request of them with the expectation that if they accept our request they will deliver as promised. What happens from there will either strengthen trust or weaken it.
However, it is important to note that when someone has not been trustworthy, you can still choose to trust them. The key is to be prudent with what you entrust to them and how you proceed so you set an appropriate level of expectation given your relationship.
For example, if you have a conversation with someone you request they keep confidential and they do not, it does not mean they can never be reliable. It is an indication that prudence is in order. If you choose to trust someone it is your responsibility to hold them accountable. When you step over a failure to keep a commitment you fuel the degradation of trust in your relationship. So first let them know they broke your trust and ensure they understand and own the implications. If you choose to trust them again with confidential information, share something less sensitive. Also, make the request for confidentiality, emphasize why it is important and the offense that will occur if they fail to keep the trust.
How do you choose to trust someone in practice? Negotiate clear agreements. Here are three ingredients to ensure your agreements support you as you build trust:
1. Be specific about what, why and when.
This is one of those things we all know, but don’t always do. When you make a request be rigorously specific about all three (what, why and when) or the result is likely to be less than satisfactory. When you are on the receiving end make sure you are clear about all three. Leaving any one of these things out puts trust at risk unnecessarily
2. Be specific about the conditions for success as well as your personal satisfaction with the outcome and the process.
This requires that you be personally responsible for being satisfied as well as your current level of trust. Establish terms in your agreements that ensure you are personally responsible for your level of trust in terms of competence, reliability and sincerity. For example if someone has failed to meet deadlines consistently, ask to meet at interim points in the project to help ensure things stay on track. In the process the person who has been previously unreliable might actually learn how to improve in that area.
3. Declare your expectations.
Nothing is more damaging to trust in relationships than expectations that are not made clear or that seem to be a moving target. We often talk about the need to manage expectations. Expectations are a lot easier to manage when we make them clear and specific as opposed to allowing them to lurk in the background undistinguished and unspoken. Also, be mindful of your assumptions because, left unexamined, assumptions are often the source of frustration and unmet expectations.
When one person isn’t satisfied chances are expectations were either not mutually clear and/or have not been met. Blame, judgment and justification can easily ensue when this happens. Be willing to be personally responsible for your contribution to the misinterpretation and/or lack of clarity in your agreements and you will find it is much easier to restore trust.
When you mindfully choose to trust others you are taking personal responsibility for surrounding yourself with people you can count on and who know they can count on you. Without trust in others and from others you can neither transcend your current circumstances nor achieve something remarkable.
You can consciously and actively build trust or you can hope trust will happen. Are you willing to choose?
I think the idea of setting clear expectations is really important. If people know what is expected, then they can mindfully meet your expectations or choose not to. When the process is vague, then they may willfully choose not to meet expectations or may not meet them because they do not understand. Either way trust is lost. In addition, failure to set clear expectations makes others lose faith in your ability to lead. As a leader, your desire to help others be successful should result in you making your expectations clear.
Thanks for this reminder as I begin a new school year. I will need to make my expectations clear in order to help my students become successful!
Love this point you make in particular: “As a leader, your desire to help others be successful should result in you making your expectations clear.”
You also point out the importance of choosing to be trustworthy. A leaders role is often to bring people to choice – setting clear expectations is one way to do that. When you set clear expectations you remove the “wriggle room” someone has to justify why they didn’t deliver and instead cause them to choose so they can be personally responsible for the consequences of their choice for better or for worse.
Thanks for adding your wisdom Deb!
thanks Susan for a great article and insight on choosing to trust. Trust is the foundation of teamwork, whether at home or at work, and it seems so many people today avoid it. But you put it back on our shoulders to choose. Thanks!
Thanks Steve. Interesting point that people “try to avoid it”. When it’s there it’s easy. But when it is not or it gets broken it often requires a tough conversation. the cost of avoidance is huge!
You have a magnificent way of clearly distinguishing intangibles. And trust is one big intangible. Heck, Covey’s son wrote a 300+ page book on the topic. You gave us a succinct, power-punch in <500 words.
What kept going through my mind as I read this is how all types of leaders could use this information to restore optimism in the workplace and strengthen relationships.
My favorite point: have the difficult or awkward conversations when trust is broken. Holding it in only weakens chances of building stronger relationships.
Appreciate your kind words Shawn. I think taking this point of view and putting it into practice can absolutely restore optimism in the workplace BECAUSE it strengthens relationships. Somewhere between trust and optimism is faith – if you don’t trust the people you work with then you probably don’t have much faith in the relationships or the future. Without that faith how could you be optimistic?
Insightful as always.
I love the way you framed trust as the choice that it is rather than the way many people think about it – something that I have or don’t, but can’t control. Trust is not a feeling, or a result, its a decision. There are so many choices that we have that we leave to others to make for us when we can simply make them for ourselves.
All the best,
Thanks Randy. People seem to have a hard time taking personal responsibility for anything they think they can’t control. especially other people’s behavior. While we of course can’t control other people’s behavior we can make personal choices that can influence behavior.
Susan- this is a great article. It got me thinking about whether trust in personal relationships is different than trust in business relationships.
In both cases I think one must extend trust first. In personal relationships, the biggest “trust buster” for me is sharing information that should have been kept confidential. In business, the “trust buster” is lack of accountability- not doing what you say you will.
I wonder if others make the same distinction.
Yes, Susan. Trust is the cornerstone of relationships of all kinds. When a new boss is appointed, the first question staff ask is: “what is he (she) like?” Degrees and status are secondary to personality. The Chinese word for Trust is made up of: “people” and “two” referring it to a quality that binds people together! Thought I’d share with you.
Hi Susan. Thank you for this article. I think you make an insightful point about the value of setting clear expectations. I think there are times where we perceive someone as breaking our trust when in reality that person had a different expectation or understanding of the particular situation at hand.
When it comes to building trust, I’m a champion of the TrustWorks! ABCD model. It provides a common language and framework for understanding and building trust. A person builds trust by being:
A – Able: Trust is built when we demonstrate competence by our expertise, establishing a track record of success, and knowing how to get work done in an organization.
B – Believable: Acting with integrity builds trust. We’re “believable” when we behave according to our values (walk the talk), are honest, and treat people fairly.
C – Connected: Being connected is about showing care and concern for others which builds trust. Building rapport, appreciating differences, and recognizing & rewarding individuals are trust-boosters.
D – Dependable: Being dependable is about maintaining reliability. It’s about being responsive to others, following through on commitments, and holding ourselves and others accountable.
If interested, you can learn more about TrustWorks! and the ABCD Model at http://leadingwithtrust.com.