LEARNING CENTER - Building Teams. Developing Leaders.
print this page


how to build trust 
For Sustained High Performance
   From Built on Trust: Strengthening Leadership Culture training course

Trust as a foundation for high performance means just that: trust comes first. When we try to make the plan before the trust issues are resolved, we deal with symptoms rather than causes and repeating problems just change names.

Yes, you can order people to do things. But you run the risk of getting the salute and not the heart, gaining compliance and not the commitment.

Train People How to Think
You can train people to think quality, to think service—but there's a difference: whether these efforts come from trust and commitment, and whether they're genuine. And that's the difference that communicates to the market, that makes people want to do business with you.

The concept of trust is simple: build on individual confidence and eliminate fear as an operating principle. The process is achievable, once we understand the emotions associated with trust and incorporate them into these four steps:

1. Define what we mean by trust,
2. Understand our blind spots,
3. Communicate with intention, and,
4. Produce. The conversion to a team mentality is difficult because effective teams must be predicated on trust.

Defining Trust
There are two parts to trust: a feeling part that indicates trust and a performance track record that confirms trust.

An active feeling of trust is confidence: in leadership, in veracity, in reliability. A passive feeling of trust is the absence of worry or suspicion. Our most productive relationships are already based on trust, sometimes unrecognized and frequently taken for granted.

Trust, then, can be defined as confidence, the absence of suspicion, confirmed by track record and our ability to correct.

The track record is only a confirmation of well-placed trust. If we define trust solely in terms of past events, we often consign ourselves to long periods of testing and sometimes stubborn unforgiveness. It is much more productive to correct mistakes and miscommunications to re-build trust starting now.

Blind Spots
Over our careers, each of us has collected a set of beliefs, world views and sweeping opinions, some of which are productive and some of which are not. The latter tend to be our blind spots.

All beliefs are formed from facts and assumptions. The blind spot beliefs are formed with two additional ingredients: fear and loss.

Centuries ago, for instance, the world got flat when societies observed facts, (the boat disappearing over a straight horizon), experienced fear and loss, (loved ones and survival necessities), and assumed there was a logical explanation using the available facts.

Similar blind spots accumulate for each of us in our careers. The sequence goes something like this: on an occasion when we are extending trust, often contributing extra, something happens which leaves us feeling burnt, or betrayed. The emotional response is immediate: shock, fear, loss, anger. The mental reaction is a "never again" decision that affects trust. These decisions are logical, but are often categorical, over-protective, and therefore limiting.

If we have a "betrayal" event with one boss, for instance, we may unconsciously conclude that all bosses of that "type" are untrustworthy, or that we ourselves are generally vulnerable, naive, or otherwise disabled. When these decisions are "unremembered," they result in limitation: future bosses (or corporations, or whatever category) may be fighting hidden barriers to trust. We sometimes "protect" ourselves further by unconsciously reducing our motivation to do extra, to be flexible with the times, or to take appropriate risks.

Since virtually all of us carry similar "trust screens," we can expect some over-reaction and misunderstanding from others' blind spots as well as our own. The resulting confusion can lead to unproductive and sometimes amusing "solutions to the problem": analyzing each other, seeking solace in categorizing people, trying to "fix" our associates.

While changing each other remains futile, changing interaction dynamics from non-trust to trust is achievable. The pathway is communication.

Communicate With Intention
Successful trust-building hinges on three components of communication: intention, preparation, and mechanics.

Building trust is vastly different from trying to establish who is right. The differences are obvious in how the parties communicate. The two keys to trust-building communication are committing to find win/win strategies even if the starting point is clearly not trust, and arriving at defined, accountable outcomes.

First, list the important misunderstandings or frustrations from your perspective. Think through to some possible win/win outcomes. But rather than take positions at this point, identify the general substance of each interest.

Next, look at what you have been trying to contribute. Have you felt blocked? Forced? Excluded?

Take an honest look. Might your intended partner fall into one of your "trust screen" prejudices? Are some of your reactions "knee jerk," over-emotional, or somehow familiar? Might it make sense to extend benefit of the doubt in some specific instance?

What has been your participation in the problem, or in allowing the problem to remain unresolved? For example, are you avoiding the problem while it grows underfoot? Pretending the problem matters less than it does, while stress subliminally builds? Omitting communications because "it should be obvious?" If you feel your contribution is being thwarted, has your reaction exacerbated the problem, and if so, how? What could you do instead?

How a sensitive communication begins is important. Successful conversations usually start with tact, a win/win intent, and even a sincere and disarming admission that you have been part of the roadblock.

Eliciting willingness (to listen, to speak frankly) builds mutual respect; demanding attention ("we need to talk") builds suspicion. Private communications build confidence; public scenes build walls.

Non-assumptive questions are important tools for eliciting willingness ("How are we doing on our timeline" vs. "Why are your reports always late").

Listening accurately means separating the act of receiving information from the act of judging that information. While both processes are critical, prematurely communicating judgment (e.g., abrupt interruptions, restlessness, a frown) invites changes in the message itself. When listening is compromised, we lose diversity of viewpoint and reduce our intelligence.

Closure means not leaving any unnecessary question marks after communication. Closure is critical to building trust; dangling voids are susceptible to later negativity. Make a point to close every interest and every suggestion in some form. When an answer isn't available, set a time and a plan for a more thorough response.

When only action will supply an answer, share the risk and set end-points together.

Produce a Win/Win Attitude
With this type of communication, attitudes convert to win/win. The next step is to frame the action, distribute the responsibilities and accountabilities, provide and secure the required support.

Again, the sequence is critical. Resolve the trust issues first, then create and execute the strategies.

Remember that slipped commitments do not necessarily mean false commitments. Handle slippage by building trust. Rather than be accusatory, ask "what happened?" in a neutral fashion, and mean it. Listen carefully, correct collaboratively, and choose alternative resources when necessary.

Most important, sincerely acknowledge increasing productivity. In this way, we continuously learn what success is and how to expand it.

In Summary
Trust is the basis for our drive to contribute. The basis of mistrust is fear, but fear is also a requirement for survival. If we didn't have a "hot stove" protection mechanism, we'd be getting burned daily. But as we see, not touching the hot stove sometimes goes to the extreme of not even going into the kitchen.

We need to recognize fear, yet not base our actions or our organizational systems on fear. The occasional "betrayal" experience is unavoidable in a productive career. While the pain is real, the experiences also produce valuable lessons. The cost further diminishes compared to the cynicism, inflexibility and risk-aversion that results from never extending trust. This is true particularly when we examine the enormous profits that a confident and trusting approach will garner.

The team that competently manages its members' desire to contribute is already building trust. This involves an improved understanding of ourselves. We must recognize our blind spots in order to tip the balance away from fear and toward our vital and vulnerable desire to better things.

See feature, Built on Trust.

© 2002 Learning Center Incorporated • All rights reserved.
TAKE ACTION NOW For free consultation on your critical team/leader/performance issues,
call (415) 456-8990 or email info@learningcenter.net .
print this page