We usually avoid saying this directly to those we mistrust. It’s more common to report our unease and reasons for it to other parties, make vague or indirect complaints, or practice avoidance. By then the relationship has effectively failed, though the mistrusted person may be unaware of this. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to repair the damage. Given the centrality of trust to cooperation and collaboration, what can be done and how can we behave in order to develop and maintain it? If trust is lost can anything be done to regain it?
Mistrust drains energy as people seek wider support for their negative perceptions, awfulising the evidence and spreading it until polarised “sides” for and against someone or some group are formed.
Low trust between people takes a great toll on organisations and on individuals’ lives. It slows everything down. People who mistrust each other negatively interpret each other’s words and decisions. Individuals and organisations avoid working together even when cooperation would benefit both sides. Low trust leads to increased bureaucracy, duplication of effort, disengaged staff and political maneuvering among leaders. Stephen Covey, The Speed of Trust (2006).
Answers to “Do you trust her, (him, or them)?” reveal a great deal about the quality of any relationship. Covey believes that the question, “Do you trust your boss?” better predicts team and organisational performance than any other. He reports a 2002 study that revealed shareholder return in companies where staff have a high level of trust in each other was almost 300 per cent higher than in low-trust companies.
Trust of others is founded on many human qualities, among them consistency, credibility, loyalty, competence, reliability, transparency, honesty and other forms of integrity, acting honourably and benignly. To build others’ trust in us, we should start wherever we’re aware of the greatest need. Here are four sources of inspiration and support for that journey:
The Speed of Trust
There’s a very generous summary of the principles and practices Stephen Covey recommends in this excellent book, available online here. It includes his 4 Cores of Credibility, The 13 Behaviors of High Trust and an introduction to his approach to developing Organizational Trust.
Cultivating Trust in Organisational Partnerships
In a thoughtful article, Rick James (International NGO Training & Research Centre), writes: All relationships stand or fall on trust. Leaders’ relations with their followers, [ . . . ] good relations between departments [and] healthy partnerships between organisations depend on trust. Trust is the ultimate root and source of influence. Trust is not something soft and woolly. It is a hard core and highly cost effective asset that you can create and also destroy. James introduces three ways to cultivate greater trust in partnerships.
Building Real Leadership Connections
In a 2015 Bluepoint Leadership article (apparently unavailable online currently), Greg Thompson distinguished between “good relationships” and “real leadership connections”. He has studied and describes leaders who understand that their real power comes not from their position, but from their ability to build strong, lasting connections with others in the organisation. He asks, How do they do it? Great leaders, Thompson believes, take a somewhat counter-intuitive approach to building strong connections. In summary, they:
Honour the person: As soon as possible after meeting someone, they make a point of recognising and highlighting something that is unique and interesting about the person. They do not simply provide some trite compliments or seek to flatter the person. They put real effort into identifying what is distinctive and special about the person.
Disclose key information: They find a way to reduce the barriers of rank, position, status and the like by sharing personal information, becoming vulnerable and communicating on a distinctly personal level.
Learn what’s important: Rather than just learn about the other person, they find out what is really important to the other person and how they can best interact with them.
Seek to Serve: They find an opportunity to be of significant service to the person before they ask anything of them. If this requires a significant sacrifice or investment on their part, that’s all the better.
Listening, to Build Trust
There is another, vital but all too infrequently-practised leadership characteristic that goes a long way towards communicating on a distinctly personal level, identifying what is distinctive and special about the person (as Gregg Thompson writes) and building trusting relationships. It is the ability to listen, hear, understand and demonstrate real understanding of others. This competency under-pins all other successful leadership relationship qualities. The shortest route to learning about others is to listen to understand them. But it’s often apparent that many people with perfect hearing have seriously impaired listening. In their interpersonal and relationship management practices, they tend to:
- Present, describe, explain, justify or defend positions, rather than listen to hear and understand differing perspectives.
- Be “knowers” rather than “learners” in relationships dialogue, in leading, in coaching.
- Talk over and shut down resistance, concerns and anxiety about change.
- In discussions of problems, push easy or predetermined solutions rather than express curiosity about and open-mindedly explore challenges, issues and their causes.
- Compete for speaking space, rather than share it equitably.
Faced with these behaviours, other people disengage and become more solid in their opposition to what is proposed. Opportunities to build trust, respect and understanding are lost.
Listening that builds trust demands that we enter into the other’s world to understand and show that we understand how the word appears to them through their eyes. It requires us to seek clarity and confirmation, demonstrate insatiable curiosity and accurate empathy. This, of course, is commonsense and widely known. But common practice . . ? Not so much.
Listening before prescribing, builds trust . . . You need to be careful not to learn the mechanics of listening and leave the impression you are listening when you really are not. Stephen Covey, The Speed of Trust.
How well do you listen? How do you know? How do your interpersonal communication practices stack up, generally? Here’s a way to find comprehensive answers to those questions > > >