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Human Element: It's all about trust
By Sid Scott, Scott Consultants

Many of us are frustrated and even angry about the inability of our elected officials to collaborate and compromise. Instead, we have members of both parties competing, refusing to negotiate and even avoiding working toward solutions It tends to erode our trust in their judgment.

My supposition is that our representatives use 'tricks' such as filibusters, deception and misconstruction of facts because they basically do not trust each other. As a result, we all suffer and problems do not get addressed in a timely fashion. Trust, in government, as in business and other relationships, starts with each individual understanding his or her responsibilities to make the relationships work.

What is trust?

Dictionaries and other reference sources are always good places to start to help us understand a word or a phrase. My American Heritage dictionary states the first definition of trust is "Confidence in the integrity, ability, character and truth of a person or thing."  If we delve deeper, we find trust is derived from a German word, 'Trost' which translates as 'comfort.' So, when we experience trust, it has the ability to make us feel safer and less fearful that bad things might happen.

While that definition seems to just about cover everything we think about when we try to explain trust, Dr. Jack Gibb, a psychologist who originated several theories and process related to trust, reminds us that the word confidence implies a conscious conclusion based on facts, evidence or past experiences. In Gibb's perception, trust is '....often instinctive; it is...freely given...and can make a powerful difference in our lives.

When we look for quotations on trust, it is no surprise that we find humans are less inclined to give trust freely. Here are some interesting comments on trust that imply the authors have had some bad experiences that have made them wary and cautious:

"First try, then trust" – John Clarke, 1639

"Trust everybody, but cut the cards" – Finley Peter Dunne, 1900

"Trust everyone until you have reason not to" – Anonymous

Reflecting on these quotes, one could conclude trust is easily lost and may be very difficult, if not impossible, to regain once it is compromised. Let's explore how we can build trust in our relationships, especially those that take place at work.

How do people we trust show us they are trustworthy?          

All of us can share some examples of how we learned to trust people in our lives. As children, we are very open to trusting the environment around us, and, as Dr. Gibbs states, this is an instinctive reaction. Further, if the people in our lives – our parents, family members, friends, teachers, etc. are consistent in the ways they relate to us, our confidence in them grows and trust is enhanced.

This is pretty much the same way it happens as we venture into the work world. However, by the time we old enough to be employed and have had experiences with trust – both good and bad – we are less likely to give our trust freely and instinctively, especially when we are faced with significant changes which require a high level of trust.

What I have learned is that we tend to trust people who:

1. Listen and acknowledge suggestions of others.  This sounds pretty simple to do, but I am always amazed at how many leaders don't listen and acknowledge ideas others generate. Not only is this arrogant and demeaning, but it is also dumb to not seek and encourage input from everyone in the organization. Just because someone isn't in management, doesn't have a college degree or other qualification doesn't mean they don't have good ideas or creative thoughts that could help the organization.

2. Tell the truth and communicate openly. This is very difficult for some leaders. Sharing part of the information about a change or a situation, or rationalizing that people wouldn't understand nor wouldn't care can undermine future trust. Of course, there are times when we can't share all the details, but we can note the confidentiality limitation and be truthful about it. People who are trusted don't try to rewrite what happened, spin the truth or avoid it. This applies to mistakes a leader or the company has made. Acknowledge them, make your apologies and move on. People will respect you for being human.


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