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  • Pam Bilbrey, Table Group Principal Consultant

How Trustworthy Are You?

Trust on teams is a measure of the quality of the relationships between team members. It is the glue that holds the team together. Trusting teams create an environment where it is safe to admit weaknesses, ask others for help, share ideas and opinions, and offer feedback to colleagues without fear of being judged or rejected. Without trust teams often disintegrate into some predictable dysfunctional behaviors.

At The Table Group, we define trust in two ways. There is “predictive trust”, meaning people do what they say they will do, and there is “vulnerability–based trust”, meaning people are open and honest with one another. Without vulnerability–based trust, team members spend their time and energy concealing their weaknesses and mistakes from one another, and they jump to conclusions about the intentions, aptitude, and character of colleagues. Teams without trust fail to fully utilize the skills, expertise, and experience of colleagues which, in turn, prevents the team from achieving the best possible results. In fact, a recent Watson Wyatt study representing all major industries found that companies with high trust levels generated total returns to shareholders at almost three times that of companies with low levels of trust. Trust matters.

Perceptions of Trust

Surveys indicate that perceptions of team trust are statistically equivalent to the least trusted member. Trust on teams sinks to the lowest level. Research also shows we generally judge others to be less trustworthy than ourselves. In other words, it is likely that those you work with judge you to be less trustworthy than you judge yourself to be. What creates this perception? Two thoughts come to mind. First, trusting others is a choice we make. For some, trust comes quickly while others find it more difficult to establish trust. Social psychologists say there is a complex mix of personality, experiences and culture that impacts the trust we have in others that has little to do with the other person. Our perspective on life (glass half empty or glass half full) is another way to think about it. The glass ½ full individual finds trusting easier because they see the world as benign while the glass ½ empty person sees the world as full of threats. Secondly, and the focus of the rest of this article, is the acknowledgement that our everyday behaviors affect how people assess our trustworthiness. Each interaction is an opportunity to build or erode trust with colleagues.

Demonstrating Trustworthiness

There is an intriguing line from a 1971 Ringo Starr song, “I don’t ask for much, I only want your trust. And you know it don’t come easy.” Perhaps trust doesn’t always come easy, but through our words and actions we can prove ourselves worthy of another’s trust. Take a few moments to answer the following questions and gain insight on how consistently you demonstrate trustworthiness.

1 Do you intentionally connect with others?

All relationships, even workplace relationships, have an emotional component that is critical to building trust. People need to know you care about them beyond the job title and their role and responsibilities. Get to know the interests and passions of your colleagues and share yours. Show you care by listening well, being empathetic, and offering your support. Remember that simple gestures – a warm hello, a nod, a smile – go a long way in making a connection and showing others they matter.

2 Do you share your shortcomings?

No one gets it right 100% of the time. Each of us brings a set of strengths and a set of weaknesses to the team. My guess is that your colleagues know you are not perfect, so why pretend? Admit your mistakes, acknowledge you don’t have all the answers, ask for help, and recognize that others’ ideas may be better than your own. People will respect your honesty and willingness to be vulnerable about your shortcomings. Humility is an important virtue.

3 Do you keep your promises?

Delivering on your promises increases believability and believability builds trust. It lets others know they can rely on you. Be responsive to requests and hold yourself accountable to do what you say you will do and you will establish a track record of results. Avoid excuses to justify inaction and finger pointing or blaming when things go south and you will position yourself as a trustworthy colleague.

4 Do you tell the whole truth?

Perhaps you have met individuals that seem to exaggerate or “spin” the facts just enough to tip the scales in their favor. Or maybe you know someone with a habit of conveniently leaving out the details that don’t support their position. Communication that is a little less than honest erodes trust and creates doubt about your intent. Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and you will be respected for your honesty.

5 Do you walk the talk?

People trust others that demonstrate consistency in what they believe, say and do. Ensure your actions are congruent with your values and beliefs. Model the behaviors you expect of others. Martin Luther King said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” When you consistently practice what you preach, you act with integrity and others will know they can count on you to do the right thing.

6 Do you give others the benefit of the doubt?

A trusting colleague will give others the benefit of the doubt and assume positive intent. Avoid jumping to conclusions and the cynicism it creates. Take the time to better understand others and the way they might think and act in work situations. When you acknowledge and accept the uniqueness of each individual, you create a whole new level of respect and admiration for what they bring to the team.

7 Do you avoid back channeling?

While it may be tempting at times to vent your frustrations with a colleague behind their back, it never leads to good things. Go directly to the person that ruffles your feathers to show you value the relationship and are willing to have an uncomfortable conversation to make things better. Avoid office gossip and refuse to participate when others want you to engage in ‘behind–your–back’ conversations.

Understanding Perceptions of Trust Exercise

Trustworthiness is in the eye of the beholder. It’s important for teams to understand the personal triggers that create a perception of trust and distrust among their colleagues. I often ask teams to participate in an exercise where each team member is asked to complete the following sentences:

  1. The fastest way to gain my trust is to…

  2. My trust in another person is instantly eroded when…

The insights gained in understanding how perceptions of trust are formed can be a significant step in moving the team to higher levels of trust.

Be Courageous

A client recently shared his thoughts on trust and teams, “Unlike some areas of team effectiveness that can be enhanced by adopting a new process, structure or tool, trust is a ‘fragile commodity’ that takes time and patience to build as often teams experience two steps forward and one step back. My experience is that a crack in trust makes it hard to get acceleration in the other areas of team performance.” There is reciprocity in trusting others. When we give trust, people return it; when we withhold trust, they do the same. The best way to create trust is to be proactive – step forward and extend trust to your colleagues through your words and actions. Patrick Lencioni reminds us, “The key ingredient to building trust is not time. It is courage.” How courageous are you willing to be?

By Pam Bilbrey, Table Group Principal Consultant


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