The Im­por­tance of Trust, and How to Get There

Trillions - - In This Issue - By Dr. Chance T. Ea­ton

“You can never make some­one trust you son…you just can’t force some­one to have faith in your ac­tions…you have to earn it…one per­son at a time”. This is what my dad told me one af­ter­noon as we were driv­ing from the field back to the farm. He lived this wis­dom, and I can’t re­call a sin­gle time where ei­ther de­manded trust from some­one, or acted in­au­then­ti­cally in or­der to ob­tain some­one else’s trust.

In my opin­ion, the topic of trust is at the root of many of to­day’s or­ga­ni­za­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tion chal­lenges. Lead­er­ship au­thor Stephen Covey (1989) said that so­cial ef­fec­tive­ness par­tially de­rives from the de­vel­oped trust and so­cial cap­i­tal be­tween peo­ple. This cap­i­tal goes by many names; in­clud­ing how full is your bucket, trust ac­counts, but Covey re­ferred to it as the Emo­tional Bank Ac­count.

As in a tra­di­tional bank ac­count, as de­posits are made, the ac­count gets higher thus al­low­ing for more cush­ion in spend­ing. As with­drawals are made, the ac­count be­comes very sen­si­tive to any and all spend­ing. With emo­tional bank ac­counts, as we make re­la­tion­ship de­posits to oth­ers’ ac­counts in the form of keep­ing com­mit­ments, courtesy, kind­ness, etc., we build a higher bal­ance and greater de­grees of trust. We see the fruits of trust in the form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. When ac­counts are large, com­mu­ni­ca­tion is easy, ef­fort­less, and even in cases where mis­takes are made, peo­ple still get your mean­ing – sim­ply due to the amount of trust that has been gen­er­ated.

In the case of small trust ac­counts, large or con­tin­u­ous with­drawals can re­sult in small mis­takes be­com­ing very sen­si­tive. Ex­am­ples in­clude over­re­act­ing, threat­en­ing, ig­nor­ing, not com­mit­ting to prom­ises, dis­cour­tesy, dis­re­spect, and un­kind­ness which even­tu­ally lead to low or even over­drawn emo­tional ac­counts. When it comes to com­mu­ni­ca­tion, low or over­drawn ac­counts feel as if you are walk­ing on egg shells and you mea­sure ev­ery word care­fully. Even when you are clear in your com­mu­ni­ca­tion – it still doesn’t work, as small things be­come blown out of pro­por­tion.

I think this is a very el­e­gant de­scrip­tion of what is re­ally hap­pen­ing in many or­ga­ni­za­tions. Lead­ers and em­ploy­ees are walk­ing around with low trust ac­counts with one another, and re­sort to petty be­hav­iors in at­tempt to man­i­fest com­mit­ment, when all they are re­ally get­ting is com­pli­ance. Fur­ther, as the trust di­min­ishes, groups be­gin to silo, pro­tect, pre­serve, re­act, and sim­ply move into sur­vival mode.

I re­cently ob­served a “forced trust” sit­u­a­tion where a group of lead­ers went through their an­nual off-site trust build­ing train­ing. I was told that this year the train­ing was ex­tremely sig­nif­i­cant and upon their re­turn, their trust for one another was at an all-time high. Keep in mind the same team goes through an off-site trust build­ing train­ing ev­ery other year, with no mean­ing­ful or last­ing re­sults. But this year was to be dif­fer­ent, and the em­ploy­ees of the com­pany were guar­an­teed to see the re­sults of their new trust.

To demon­strate their new-found trust with one another, upon re­turn­ing the lead­ers held stand­ing cir­cle meet­ings in open spa­ces spread through­out the build­ing. For 10-min­utes, the lead­ers vis­ited in pub­lic for one rea­son and one rea­son only – to demon­strate to the com­pany em­ploy­ees that they can com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively, they are vis­i­ble, and that they can be trusted.

The en­tire act re­minded me of my fa­ther’s wis­dom, “you can never make some­one trust you…you have to earn it.” By hold­ing an in­for­mal meet­ing in the open to prove that you are com­mu­ni­cat­ing and can be trusted – did more dam­age than good. Em­ploy­ees quickly saw their strat­egy as noth­ing more than another in­au­then­tic tac­tic. Our coun­try’s work­places are des­per­ate for qual­ity lead­ers, and trust gim­micks do more dam­age than good. If com­pa­nies can’t get past cor­po­rate games­man­ship, we will con­tinue to make with­drawals from one another’s trust ac­count, leav­ing us ex­hausted and dis­en­gaged.

In the Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey (2006) out­lined the trust in­gre­di­ents of char­ac­ter and com­pe­tence. Char­ac­ter is a sta­ble moral qual­ity; mod­el­ing in­tegrity, mo­tive, and pos­i­tive in­tent with peo­ple. Com­pe­tence is the abil­ity to do some­thing suc­cess­fully or ef­fi­ciently; dis­play­ing skills, qual­ity re­sults and a win­ning track record.

This is an easy thought ex­er­cise to play with; con­sider some­one you know that demon­strates char­ac­ter, but lacks the com­pe­tence to do the work – even though you re­spect them as a solid per­son, you strate­gi­cally work around them be­cause they can­not per­form to ex­pec­ta­tions. Con­versely, con­sider some­one you know that demon­strates the com­pe­tence to do qual­ity work, but lack char­ac­ter – you pro­ceed very care­fully be­cause they lack moral in­tegrity. The com­bi­na­tion of char­ac­ter and com­pe­tence are key in­gre­di­ents to set­ting the stage for trust.

These are highly valu­able in un­der­stand­ing trust, but in my line of busi­ness, we are in chang­ing be­hav­iors. As­sum­ing that a per­son has de­vel­oped strong lead­er­ship prin­ci­ples, trust fol­low-through comes from sim­ple be­hav­ioral prac­tices. Fol­low­ing, I out­line the three be­hav­ioral prac­tices that can be used in any so­cial con­text to achieve greater de­grees of trust.

Prac­tice 1 – Be­ing There & Mak­ing Touch Points

Be­ing phys­i­cally, men­tally, and emo­tion­ally avail­able to team mem­bers cre­ates greater de­grees of trust, con­nec­tion, and part­ner­ship. Be­ing present and avail­able is a demon­stra­tion that you care about the ac­tiv­i­ties of the team. Even though life in the or­ga­ni­za­tion is busy, there are am­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to be present with your team. Psy­chol­o­gist Daniel Kah­ne­man sug­gests there are over 20,000 in­di­vid­ual moments in any given day. Even though each mo­ment is brief they can have tremen­dous ef­fect on those around you. With so many po­ten­tial op­por­tu­ni­ties, there are no ex­cuses to make your­self avail­able to oth­ers.

A sim­ple ex­am­ple of ‘be­ing-there’ is the touch point; a mo­ment where you come into con­tact with a team mem­ber and make it count. This is dif­fer­ent than sim­ply be­ing in con­tact with some­one else – a touch-point is a con­scious ac­tiv­ity of con­nect­ing with another hu­man be­ing for even just a brief mo­ment. It is the tran­si­tion from be­ing trans­ac­tional with a per­son to be­ing trans­for­ma­tional. The touch-point is given greater en­ergy when fo­cused aware­ness is ac­ti­vated; it’s about be­ing-there phys­i­cally, men­tally, and emo­tion­ally. Ex­am­ple touch points in the work­place may in­clude walk­ing the floor and hav­ing in­for­mal con­ver­sa­tions with your teams, team hud­dles to go over daily ex­pec­ta­tions and news, and even emails to high­light work progress, feed­back, and in­ter­est­ing ar­ti­cles.

Prac­tice 2 – Tak­ing Per­spec­tive & Stand­ing in their Shoes

Tra­di­tion­ally or­ga­ni­za­tions treat each em­ployee the same re­gard­ing feed­back, ex­pec­ta­tions, de­ci­sion mak­ing, eval­u­a­tion, train­ing and even daily con­ver­sa­tion. The prob­lem with treat­ing ev­ery­one the same is that is it ig­nores the re­al­ity that ev­ery­one is very dif­fer­ent. A good ex­pla­na­tion for the temp­ta­tion to treat ev­ery­one the same comes from Stephen Covey’s (1989) de­scrip­tion of a par­a­digm. Ac­cord­ing to Covey, a par­a­digm is a pat­tern, model, or map in your mind build around as­sump­tions for the way things are in the world. Paradigms de­rive from each per­son’s unique back­ground and ex­pe­ri­ences. Peo­ple are not ac­tu­ally see­ing ob­jec­tive re­al­ity – in­stead they are see­ing the world sub­jec­tively through their unique lens of the world. When we lis­ten, we fil­ter the world through our par­a­digm, when we speak, we speak from our as­sump­tions for the way things are in the world.

We com­mu­ni­cate through our fil­tered paradigms.

Highly ef­fec­tive and high per­form­ing lead­ers rec­og­nize and honor their own unique paradigms, but have the ma­tu­rity and en­ergy to see and re­spect the paradigms of those around them. It is re­ally about see­ing the world from another’s par­a­digm. Ef­fec­tive lead­ers know how to stand in oth­ers’ shoes. And to gain even deeper un­der­stand­ing, great lead­ers “pull the string.” This refers to ask­ing non-judg­men­tal fol­low-up ques­tions, al­low­ing for deeper and more mean­ing­ful dis­cov­ery of another’s par­a­digm.

Prac­tice 3 – Shared Di­a­logue & Play­ing Catch

Play­ing catch is al­low­ing for the di­a­logue to flow smoothly back and forth be­tween two par­ties. When we com­mu­ni­cate with another per­son and they don’t play catch we tend not to trust them. The back and forth re­cip­ro­cal move­ment is a nat­u­ral trust sup­port­ing be­hav­ior. Us­ing the “catch” anal­ogy, when you have the ball, the world is wait­ing for your voice with courage and as­sertive­ness. When you don’t have the ball, the world is ex­pect­ing you to lis­ten with con­sid­er­a­tion and co­op­er­a­tion.

Another nu­ance to di­a­logue is how the con­ver­sa­tion flows. When we com­mu­ni­cate with another per­son and they are overly di­rect, or overly sen­si­tive, we may lose trust in them. The force in how we play catch is very es­sen­tial in build­ing trust. When we throw the ball too hard to some­one who is ex­pect­ing soft toss we may cre­ate a fight/flight re­sponse. If we throw the ball too softly we may cre­ate dis­in­ter­est. The se­cret is to be aware of how the other likes to play catch and throw ac­cord­ingly.

As Covey (1989) says, slow is fast and fast is slow when it comes to re­la­tion­ships; trust takes time to de­velop. But when we make the ef­fort to build the trust ac­count with those around us, we set the foun­da­tion for ef­fec­tive busi­ness out­comes. From my per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, when team mem­bers can learn to (1) make fre­quent touch points, (2) can stand in another per­son’s shoes, and (3) play catch with their di­a­logue, they are sub­con­sciously cre­at­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal safety with another per­son. When there is psy­cho­log­i­cal safety, there is cre­ativ­ity, con­fi­dence, and space for a per­son to de­velop to their po­ten­tial.

As my fa­ther said, “you can’t make some­one trust you… you have to earn it;” so set the in­ten­tion and make the ef­fort to cre­ate strong re­la­tion­ships through au­then­tic trust build­ing and reap the re­ward of ex­tra­or­di­nary per­for­mance.

Covey, S.R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Ef­fec­tive Peo­ple. New York: Si­mon & Schus­ter

Covey, S.M.R. (2006). The Speed of Trust. New York: Free Press. Dr. Chance Ea­ton has over a decade’s worth of ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in the field of learn­ing and or­ga­ni­za­tional de­vel­op­ment. Due to his unique ed­u­ca­tional and work ex­pe­ri­ences in fi­nance, psy­chol­ogy, lead­er­ship and man­age­ment, ed­u­ca­tion, noetic sciences and agri­cul­ture, Dr. Ea­ton pro­vides his clients with rel­e­vant busi­ness so­lu­tions grounded in the­ory and re­search. To learn more about Dr. Ea­ton’s ser­vices,

visit Hr­so­lu­tion­sin­ter­na­tional.com.

Photo by Free-pho­tos, CC

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