by Roselyn Kay
Trust. One tiny but oh so powerful word! A dear friend and colleague, Ravi Pradhan, helped me see that the word Trust is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, trust lives in our vernacular like a bank safe that holds secure our valuable assets. Its meaning is shaped by our lived experience of what creates and sustains trust in life and work. As a verb, however, trust engages us in action with others. When we trust, we are sharing responsibility and placing what we hold dear in the hands of another. The giving and receiving of trust is vital to creating environments in which creativity, innovation, and collaboration can flourish.
In our executive coaching work, we notice that trust often features among the top challenges that leaders face. Without it, engagement is minimized, creativity is stifled, and innovation is non-existent. With it, collaboration grows and high performance is attainable. Our clients are often wondering about how to create or repair trust with others. It helps to know what your own conditions are for creating and repairing trust. Here are two questions to guide that discovery:
Think of a time when you felt you truly trusted someone or were part of a team where you felt high trust. What was happening? Who was there? What was it that you did or others do to demonstrate that trust existed?
Think of a time when you lost trust in someone. What were some of the things that created this loss of trust? What did you do (or could you have done) to repair trust with this person? What request might you need to make of him/her to repair trust?
The root causes of success from the first question will give you some indication of what you need to restore trust.
In Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life by Robert Solomon and Fernando Flores, the authors point to three conditions that help to create trust:
1) the sincerity in intention to create trust;
2) the competence (action, reliability, etc.) to deliver;
3) open and honest communication.
It’s not easy, because the workplace and life are full of potholes that trip us up and lead to a breakdown of trust. It’s what we have done to create trust that helps us when breakdowns occur. Let’s look at the three conditions and some actions that help to build trust.
1) Sincerity of Intention: How many of us engage with an intention to trust or consciously consider it as a factor when we engage with others? Quite often, we begin with blind trust – we assume our conditions for trust are aligned and understood by both parties. Much like we expect the post office to deliver the mail each day, we blindly trust that our employee, spouse or child will meet our expectations. What can we do? We can be clear about how our conditions for trust are to be realized. We can “walk the talk” by demonstrating that we hold ourselves similarly accountable. What do you need to tell others about your conditions for trust? What questions do you need to ask to ensure mutual understanding? Where do you need to hold yourself accountable?
2) Competence (action, reliability): Each person must be capable of delivering the requested actions reliably. To determine whether the competence exists, we can ask questions to illuminate what resources are necessary and what presents a reasonable timeframe. To establish reliability we can be in dialogue to determine what is reasonable, how the request fits with other priorities and what the person can do to meet the timeframe. Where do you need to develop more competence? What questions do you need to ask to clarify understanding?
3) Open and Honest Conversation: Here is where the rubber meets the road. Without open and honest communications, we are left with our stories about what happened. There is limited ability to build on success or change future action. When people don’t meet our expectations, we move quickly to anger or disappointment. We take it on and fix it ourselves, or we simply stop asking. When they do meet our expectations, we often miss the opportunity to acknowledge what they did and how they did it. What to do? Engage with people in dialogue and inquiry to find out what works and what needs to be addressed. Acknowledge good work with specifics. Say what you saw in them that allowed their success. What you need to have an open and honest conversation about? What do you need to acknowledge?
It takes skill to create and rebuild trust. What most of our clients have discovered is that it requires listening beyond the surface, asking powerful questions that help to create mutual understanding, and giving effective feedback that can be heard by the other party. Being ready and willing to engage in the actions required for trust takes practice.
If you desire a high trust, high performance workplace that is creative, innovative and collaborative, practice in your every day conversations. Notice how you are conveying what is expected and what is delivered. How do you listen, question and provide feedback? Hold yourself as accountable as you hold others. Walk the talk and invite others to do the same. Be part of helping to create a workplace where innovation, creativity and collaboration can flourish.
Roselyn Kay is a Partner at Innovation Partners International.