Looking at Trust (a little differently)

Scrabble letters spelling TRUST on a pale-blue background with a cluster of small blue flowers on the left side.The more I think about it, the more convinced I am: trust is essential for a good culture. (I know. Obvious, once it’s down in print, right?)

And this is true whether we’re talking about a company, a team, a family, a community – anywhere where there’s more than one person.

(Hmm. More than one person? Maybe trust within and for ourselves qualifies as part of a good culture too. But that’s beyond the scope of this article!)

Entire books have been written about trust – what it is, how to build it and nurture it, and what to do when it’s broken. But all of that can be overwhelming when one is simply doing one’s best to create a good, strong, high-performing team. Who has time to read a book or attend a class, and then integrate all those ideas, when facing change and trying to keep the team – and yourself! – on track with what needs to happen?

Let’s look at just a few basic aspects of trust – basic, yes, but perhaps not obvious – “obvious” meaning things like “be honest and transparant.” Yes, of course. But let’s go a few steps past that, whilst still keeping it practical.

The opposite of anxiety is trust

Whoa, right?

I heard this on a podcast a few days ago, out walking the dog one morning.

If you trust your boss to do the right thing and to provide the right direction, you’re going to be far less anxious than your colleague on another team who doesn’t trust their boss.

If your people seem anxious, it might be that they don’t trust you as much as you think (or wish) they did.

If they trust you completely, will that remove all anxiety? No, of course not. There are still unknowns, always. And unknowns create uncertainty and anxiety.

But the more the team trusts you, the less anxiety they’ll feel – and the more likely they’ll be to persevere despite their anxiety.

Trust is built when you offer choice with context

Clearly, you can’t give your people free rein to do whatever they want.

But any delegation effort (and any assignment of a task or project is a delegation effort) should include the choice to decide how to do the thing (within the constraints of their skill level, of course; you may need to provide guidance).

Where at all possible, it should also include the choice of when and where to do the thing. Yes, I’m thinking of remote / hybrid work here, and all the discussion (dare I say, uproar?) over presenteeism and productivity paranoia.

And the only way someone can make good choices is if they have the context within which the task or project resides. They need to know what the actual outcome looks like and why it’s important and why it’s necessary for it to look that way.

(For a simple example of how important this is, see my article “Sandwiches or Salad? Goals matter!“)

In short, you’ll get better results, build more trust, and have a more engaged team if you provide choices (autonomy and agency) along with context.

Pushing through emotional experience erodes trust

think we’re finally coming to realize that we cannot leave our emotions at the door of the office, and only pick them up again as we leave.

Nonetheless, all too often employees impacted by a change initiative are told, “The train is leaving the station – you’re either on it, or you’re off!” (I’m sorry if this has ever happened to you. If it never has, and you’re shocked that it could, I’m hearing it, and variations of it, in my interviews with people about change for my upcoming book.)

When we invalidate, override, or otherwise dismiss and ignore the absolute reality that people have emotions and that change brings up emotional reactions, we create resistance and destroy trust.

This doesn’t mean you have to become everyone’s therapist or hold anyone’s hand. It does mean that acknowledging that an emotional reaction – anxiety, fear, and, yes, distrust – is a valid response to the uncertainty of change.

And that brings the whole thing back around to the first point: the opposite of anxiety is trust.

Curious about how to inspire trust in your team as you undertake a “must-succeed” change initiative? Contact me and we’ll set a time to talk!