Trust

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The Simplest Way to Build Trust
The Simplest Way to Build Trust 1080 608 Jason Lauritsen

Few things have a more powerful effect on employee engagement and performance than trust.

Hopefully, I don’t have to convince you of the importance trust at work. We have thirty or forty years’ worth of research to demonstrate its importance (examples: here, here, and here).

Work is a relationship for the employee, and trust is vital to any healthy relationship. If you’ve ever been in a relationship where trust was broken or lacking, you understand this clearly.

So, we know trust is important, that’s not the issue.

The question is, “How do we build trust at work?” This is a particularly important question for managers and leaders.

There are a lot of answers to this question. In fact, entire books have been written on the topic, including my favorite, The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey.

Throughout my experience over the past two decades, I’ve found that there’s one thing more than any other that you can do to quickly and effectively build trust with others.

It boils down to three words: Trust others first.

The Most Powerful Way to Build Trust

I have to attribute this insight most directly to my parents. Something about the way I was raised and how I observed my parents navigating the world allowed me to be generous with my trust in relationships.

This has been true throughout life, from being trusting of friends and romantic partners as I came of age to later trusting colleagues and business partners in my professional life.

It wasn’t really something I thought a lot about for many years. When I look back, I can see now that I’ve operated with a sort of mantra about how I approached relationships.

“I’ll trust you until you prove that you are untrustworthy.”

As I have reflected on my interactions with people throughout my life,  it’s surprising how few times I remember being burned or betrayed for trusting someone. Even when relationships went south and things got tense, we were still able to navigate our way through it because of a found of trust.

The unearned trust that I’ve invested in people throughout my life has almost always been repaid to me many times over with trustworthiness.

The bottom line: If you want to build deeper trust faster with your people, trust them more (without them needing to earn it). 

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Why Trusting First Works

Science backs me up.

In psychology, research dating back to the late 1960s began to reveal the power of our expectation on others’ behavior. Two academic researchers, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson conducted research to isolate the impact of teacher expectations on student performance.

What they found was that when teachers expected more of students, regardless of their academic level or intelligence, the student outperformed the average (in some cases by 2x). They called this the Pygmalion Effect and published their findings in a book titled Pygmalion in the Classroom.

This effect has since been tested and studied in both military and workplace settings. What they all reveal is a powerful truth. Our expectations of others have an impact on how they behave, particularly where there’s a power differential in the relationship, such as teacher/student or manager/employee.

Said another way, as a manager and leader, people will tend to live up to or down to your expectations of them. So, if you want people to behave in a most trustworthy fashion, treat them as if you fully trust them.

The neuroscience research might be even more compelling.

Research by Paul Zak has revealed that biology is at play here as well. Through a series of experiments, he and his team have isolated the key role that oxytocin plays in our ability to trust others, particularly strangers.

They found that when someone demonstrates trust in you (even a total stranger), it boosts your oxytocin levels and makes you more likely to respond in a trustworthy way. Being trusted makes you more trustworthy. 

Here again, the research reveals to us that if you want people to behave in a more trustworthy way, trust them first.

Accelerate Trust Now

Embracing this concept can profoundly change your results as a manager. It can also transform your personal relationships.

And I know that if you’ve been burned in the past by a manager, employee, or significant other who betrayed your trust in a really hurtful or damaging way, this sounds easier said than done. But, don’t let one or two experiences in the past damage your ability to thrive and lead effectively in the future.

Use these simple reminders.

1. Trust first.

Don’t require people to earn your trust. When you do this, you send the signal that you don’t trust them. And they may very well prove you right as a result.

Instead, extend your trust generously and only take it away when someone has proven that they should not be trusted. This is particularly important for people with whom you work closely.

2. Tell people you trust them.

Particularly with people you manage or lead, tell them that you trust them. And then describe what that looks like.

For example, “I trust you get things done. When we discuss something, I assume you’ve got it under control and will make it happen. I know if you have questions or need help, you’ll reach out to me.”

3. Stop following up all the time.

This is where you’re likely to go awry if you’re not a naturally trusting person. If you are going to trust your people, then your behavior must not betray that intention.

The biggest mistake I see managers make (and I’ve been guilty of this many times) is following up with their direct reports to ask about project status or assignments. Typically, that sounds something like this, “How are you coming on that report? Need anything from me?”

While you may think that you are trying to show support and interest to the employee, put yourself in the employees’ shoes. What does that feel like to them?

Micromanagement.

And perhaps more significantly, it screams that while you said you trust them to get it done, that’s not really true, or you wouldn’t be asking about status.

Bet on Trust

If you have gotten this far and are still feeling a bit skeptical, I’m guessing that you work in a business or industry where people behave poorly frequently. I’m married to a politician, and her approach to trust has to be a bit more nuanced given the nature of her work.

Is it always right to trust every single person you meet fully? Probably not.

But if you hope to build any kind of meaningful or productive relationship with that person, then extending trust may be one of the most powerful things you can do to make that happen.

Give it a shot. Try being more trusting for the next 6 months and see what happens. I’m betting that you’ll be blown away.

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