Trust in one another at work is like fresh air — it's one of those niceties we don't really think about until it's gone. And when it is gone, its absence harms both the organization and its people. Life at work becomes more stressful and a lot less fun, and the company's operating costs climb. But when Trust is lacking, what we can do to create it?
Although we can tell ourselves that being more trusting ourselves will improve things, that approach is unlikely to yield lasting improvement in a low-trust environment. The mechanisms that created the environment are still in place, and they tend to undermine everyone's efforts to be more trusting.
What's needed is direct action to reduce the incidence of behaviors that create low trust. These actions must give their actors complete control over the results, unlike the hope-based tactics, which ask the actors to ante-up in the hope that others will respond only constructively.
Here are some things you can do to foster Trust at work.
- Stay in your own hula-hoop
- If you have any experience with hula-hoops, you know it's impossible to hula your own hoop and someone else's hoop at the same time. If you try, you mess up both. One cause of distrust is the perception of infringement on the rights and responsibilities of others. Whether it's seen as a power grab, disrespect, contempt, superciliousness, arrogance, or any of a number of other patterns, infringement can cause those infringed upon to ask "What next?" They can quickly move to defensive, distrustful postures that might not be specific to the infringers. See "Stay in Your Own Hula Hoop," Point Lookout for June 27, 2001, for more.
- Know your role
- It's easier to stay in your own hula-hoop if you know which hula-hoop is yours. You don't really need to know as much about anyone else's hula-hoop. Know yours and know it well.
- It takes more than being
more trusting to create
a trusting environment
- Understand the Fundamental Attribution Error
- When we try to understand the motives of others, we tend to put too much weight on character, and too little on the circumstances that others see. We do this because it's easier for us to make mental models of the character of another than it is to model the world as the other sees it. This leads us to attribute threat to intention, often erroneously. For more, see "The Fundamental Attribution Error," Point Lookout for May 5, 2004.
- Know your favorite tactics for dealing with distrust
- Often, we slip into these tactics without realizing that we're feeling threatened. Noticing your favorite distrust tactics could be your first indication that you feel threatened. And that can be useful if you want a more constructive approach.
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For more about Trust, see "TINOs: Teams in Name Only," Point Lookout for March 19, 2008, "The High Cost of Low Trust: I," Point Lookout for April 19, 2006, and "Express Your Appreciation and Trust," Point Lookout for January 16, 2002.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 1: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 1.
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