Success Builders Inc. Article of The Month
February 2000

Building Trust

By Barbara Poole

   When you consider all the elements necessary to building strong relationships, the one factor that always shows up at the top of the list is trust. Think about it. Whether we're considering relationships at work, with our customers, with friends or with family, trust is the glue that holds relationships together. And in an increasingly interdependent world, quality relationships are what make results, performance and fulfillment possible.

   What are the conditions that cultivate trust? Whether we're talking about an organizational culture or a family culture, there are several "trust drivers" that we can identify:

  1. Integrity – We all know this one is critical. It's about walking your talk, having your actions match your words, and behaving in a way that reflects your core values. It also has to do with character, and our ability to believe that people will "do the right thing" and demonstrate an ethical approach to handling the situations that we share.
  2. Consistency of Behavior – Behavior, not intentions, communicates what is important to us. In order for people to trust us, they have to feel that our behavior is predictable, that they know what to expect from us under various circumstances and conditions.
  3. Role Clarification – This one is about accountability, and who does what. Even in this age of teams and participative organizations, trust quickly erodes if there's no clarity surrounding who's responsible for what.
  4. Perceived Competence – This takes up where role clarification leaves off. If I'm a member of a team, it's not enough for me to understand who does what; I also need to feel confident that we are all capable of performing the responsibilities that we're accountable for.
  5. Opportunities for True Dialogue – Building trust depends on genuine conversation and exchange of ideas in a non-judgmental atmosphere. This is not the same thing as the surface level exchange of information that goes on in many environments. It's about creating space for people to really say what's on their minds and in their hearts; to express their ideas and expose their vulnerabilities. Not only does this build trust, it also cultivates creativity and sparks novel solutions to problems.
  6. Shared Experiences – It's hard to trust a stranger, and yet many organizations remain collections of strangers who have little interaction with one another. Trust develops when people share time and experiences together. This allows them to let down their guard and grow comfortable with each other.
  7. Co-Created Group Norms – When members of a team have an opportunity to provide input into how work should be performed, how they will operate together, and what "rules" will govern the workplace, they take greater ownership in what goes on. The same holds true for family members who co-create norms for how the home environment will function. Trust is a by-product of this mutual ownership, and reinforces the norms that have been established.

   In addition to cultivating these "trust drivers" in our environments, there are some very personal shifts that we can make to build trust with others. Perhaps the most important first step is to trust ourselves, by recognizing that we each have inside of us an essential core of wisdom, knowledge, energy and personal power. Getting in touch with this core allows us to be authentic, to know what we stand for, and to be able to share this with others. It requires us to cast aside the little "gremlin", or inner critic, that says we're not competent, not good enough, smart enough, or fast enough.

   Just as important as trusting ourselves, the flip side of the coin involves allowing ourselves to be vulnerable by trusting others. This means setting boundaries that permit an appropriate degree of risk, being open to new ways of doing things, and understanding that we all make mistakes. By permitting others to be powerful, we hold the space for learning to occur, and we help them to grow and develop. This holds true whether we are building teams or raising children.

   Leadership consultant Warren Bennis once said, "Trust is the lubricant that makes it possible for organizations to work." Indeed, it's the critical starting point for all of the relationships that matter to us.

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