Counter-Intuitive Advice on Building Trust

November 11, 2015 liane

trustTrust is the basis of a healthy team dynamic. Too little trust and you won’t open up, won’t bother sharing your unique value, and won’t have the courage to broach difficult topics. Without trust, much of the value of the team is left unrealized.

If you want to increase trust on your team, there are a few important (and often counter-intuitive) ideas to consider.

Trust is assumption you make

When I hear people talking about trust issues, they frequently talk as though they have no choice but to mistrust the other person. They act as if something objective and external needs to happen so that trust can be restored. It’s just not true. Trust is an internal state and you choose to trust or mistrust someone by changing the assumptions you make.

Do the thought experiment for yourself and you’ll see that trust isn’t objective. Imagine a person who you trust implicitly. Now imagine they do something that has a terrible impact on you. Chances are you rationalize this as situational and find ways to continue trusting the person: “They didn’t mean to hurt me.”

In the opposite case, someone you don’t trust can do something very helpful and supportive for you and you’ll probably find a rationale to continue mistrusting them: “Oh sure, that’s what they did this time.”

If you want to improve trust: start with a positive assumption. When you do, your words will change, your tone will change, and your body language will change. In response to the openness in your position and tone, the other person will respond with greater openness. Then the cycle become virtuous not vicious.

Counter-intuitively, by acting as though you trust someone, it will change how they behave and ultimately, justify your trust in them.

Add value and make room for others to add value

Beyond a basic connection, the next most important component of trust is confidence. Someone will trust you if they believe you are capable and can add value. Now imagine what happens if you stay quiet during discussions or fail to share your point of view; it’s unlikely that your teammates will have confidence in you.

When you do share, listen for hints that people lack confidence in your plan. Were you misunderstood, misinterpreted, or misjudged? If so, stop and reiterate your intent. If you suspect the team still doesn’t have faith in your approach, don’t let it go unexplored. “I sense not everyone is comfortable with my plan. What else should I be considering?”

Counter-intuitively, pretending that you know it all will make people more nervous. By opening yourself to other ideas, and even criticism, you will increase your teammate’s trust that you can deliver.

Do what you say you’ll do

There is a big difference between whether you can deliver and whether you will deliver. Although you want to say “yes” to the requests you get from your teammates, saying “yes” to things you can’t deliver on-time and with sufficient quality can actually reduce your trustworthiness.

Once you commit, your teammate will assume you are going to deliver. It doesn’t matter if three unexpected emergencies come up, or if another project you were working on is taking longer than expected. What matters is that you said you were going to deliver. If suddenly your priorities become misaligned with their priorities, they will see you as unreliable.

To ensure unreliability doesn’t erode trust, don’t say “yes” as often. Focus on key priorities, get them done efficiently, and then take on new commitments. Second, if you are in jeopardy of not delivering, DON’T hide it and hope you’ll figure it out. Instead, give your teammate a heads up that there’s an issue and involve them in your choice of a solution.

Counter-intuitively, saying “no” more often is good for trust. And if you get in over your head, asking for help is much better than not delivering.

Productive conflict increases trust

The last one is probably the most surprising. While you are tiptoeing around issues, not wanting to start an uncomfortable conversation, you are missing the most valuable opportunity to build trust. Think about it: you don’t trust people who pull their punches (especially if their hostility becomes passive-aggressive). You trust the people who tell you kindly what you need to hear. You trust the people who say things to your face that others say behind your back. You trust the people who are willing to be uncomfortable to help you be better.

So that’s what you need to do for others. You need to say out loud what others would only think. Whether it’s difficult feedback or a contrary opinion, calmly and professionally sharing it will strengthen your relationship. Ok, maybe not right away, but certainly if you continue to take the high road it will pay off over time.

Counter-intuitively, engaging in productive conflict and working through uncomfortable situations openly will increase your teammate’s trust in you.

Trust is a game-changer on teams. Once it’s there, everything gets easier and faster. With trust; connections become more genuine, confidence increases, reliability is enhanced, and conflict is aired early and openly. And it all starts with you. Choose to trust your teammates and you’ll see immediate benefits.

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