How trust works

Photo by Liane Metzler

Trust is the currency of interpersonal relationships. The metaphor of an account has always helped me to illustrate this when I was working with people from financial services. Once you initiate a relationship with a person, you open up a trust account. Every action that meets the expectations increases the account balance.  Every disappointment leads to a debit.

Strongly conservative managers start with an empty account or even with a negative balance. Their trust must be earned over a long period of time. Other managers give you a trust advance. Their mistrust must be earned.

At first glance, an empty trust account is a good protection mechanism for the manager. With every breach of trust, you can finally shout “I always knew it” and feel confirmed.

That didn’t feel right to me. In principle, I wanted to place my trust in my employees and colleagues and take off this protective armor. Of course, it also makes you vulnerable. When I got betrayed, it always hit me personally in the heart. But I noticed that this did not happen so often in the end and rather trust was rewarded with counter trust.

In this context, it also became clear to me that a gift of trust can also be poisoned. When I “trust” someone to do it exactly the way I would do it, it has nothing to do with the actual meaning of trust.

I have to accept that everyone works to his own best knowledge and intent, in his own way. Otherwise, the seed of disappointment will already be planted during the handover. That’s the little secret of the right delegation.

There is also a very nice analytical approach to the subject of trust – the trust equation:

Trust is split into three parts: Credibility, Reliability and Intimacy.

Let’s take a closer look at the individual parts:

  1. Credibility: This is about the essential question of whether I trust the person to handle it – in other words, about the relevant competence. This factor is seen as the most important in the distribution of work tasks. Alone, it will not work without the other components.
  2. Reliability: In Austria, this is also referred to as “handshake quality”. It is therefore a matter of how far I can rely on given commitments.
  3. Intimacy: Certainly, the most difficult part of trust, which normally grows over time. This is about how much I can entrust confidential matters to the other person.

All three parts add up to each other in the formula. However, they are destroyed in the denominator – Self-Orientation. Mathematically, this factor has the greatest effect. It is worth to reflect about this briefly.

What does all professional competence, reliability and discretion count if the other person primarily works for him or herself? In this case, I would always have to think about this person’s drivers. As a manager, I can of course use this knowledge to steer the employee – alone, a good relationship of trust looks different.

In teams, reflection on the trustful relationships help enormously. It shows who already works trustfully together and who can still invest in some trust-building measures. Above all, the discussion surfaces hidden cracks in the team  to improve the team’s performance.

In the end, we are always proud of full trust accounts. Be it in the relationship with employees, colleagues or, above all, customers.

How about you?

Who do you trust in your working environment? What do others think about you? Have you ever openly reflected on your trust relationships within your team?

Further good reads:

The Trust equation

David H. Maister: The Trusted Advisor

Building trust in teams: What and why?

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