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Trust - Your Springboard to Better Working Relationships

Everybody wants to be trusted and to trust those around them, right?

Trust is something that we all rely upon in our interpersonal relationships – but how many times have you heard a colleague say (or thought or said yourself), ‘I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them..’, about a co-worker or business acquaintance. Surely if this were the case in your personal life, you would very quickly distance yourself from such a person? So, how can a working relationship be completely effective unless trust is mutual and any shortfalls in trust are understood and treated as an ongoing consideration in that relationship?

In this article, we will look at:

  • How trust works;

  • How trust in relationships works at a psychological level;

  • How you can quickly assess trust levels; and

  • How you can assess where to target interactions to build trust.

As you read this it would be worthwhile to consider relationships you have, how trust has been built (if it has) and what impacts that trust.

How Trust Works

Before we begin looking at trust at a granular level, it is important to consider and accept some truths about trust (particularly in professional relationships). You may dispute these points because of specific examples, but in order for you to gain the most value from this piece, you will need to accept the following:

  • Trust is a 2-way thing – where trust exists between 2 parties, it is generally reciprocated at approximately equal levels. Remember that person who you wouldn’t trust to tie their own shoelaces? How did they feel about you? Thinking empathetically about trust and understanding the impacts that it has on the relationship allows you to steer the relationship and build the trust levels… more of that later!!

  • Trust is not a constant – if it were to be quantified, the level of trust in any given relationship would ebb and flow, according to circumstances impacting the relationship. Think of a relationship with a loved one (spouse, partner, family member or close friend). How much do you trust them right now? How does that compare to a day, a month or a year ago? Why do you trust them as much as you do right now? The simplest things can greatly impact trust – did you ever agree to do a household chore and then not do it? If you have, you will know how that can lead to domestic spats that impact trust in the (hopefully extremely) short-term. Any lost trust can/will be regained, indeed you may build more trust by being super diligent about doing what you agree to around the house for a few days after. The same applies to professional relationships, but the stakes are often exponentially higher.

How Trust in Relationships Works at a Psychological Level

Now time to get our teeth into trust. I’m sure that, if asked, you could come up with various things that make up trust (reliability, integrity, punctuality and consideration to name but a few), but deeply routed and recognised psychological theory tells us that the key components that make up trust are:

  • Credibility – do you speak and act with authority on areas that you are subject matter expert for in your relationships? Can you recognise areas you are less familiar with and readily defer to an appropriate authority on that area? More importantly (arguably), do you set the right example for others to follow and act as a Servant Leader in all that you do?

  • Reliability – is your word your bond? Can you guarantee that a task given to you will be completed on time and to the best of your ability?

  • Authenticity – are you portraying your true self in all that you do? Do you mean what you say and say what you mean? Are you able to be yourself openly and without reservation, while maintaining an appropriate demeanour for the relationship in question?

  • Perceived Self-Interest – do you act in service of the greater good or for your own good? How altruistic are your intentions? Do you have any hidden agendas in the relationship in question? In times of crisis, are you the first person in the lifeboat or the Captain manning the bridge until the bitter end?

I’m sure that anything you might have considered as being a facet of trust can be categorised as a function of one of these components.

Bearing in mind those behaviours and personal traits detailed above (and calling upon some help from the Ancient Greeks!!), we can begin to quantify trust levels in a very statistical way, using the following formula:

C x R x A

T = ____________


(Credit for the trust equation – ‘The Trust Equation’ by Steven Drozdeck and Lyn Fisher)

Note: Other versions of the Trust Equation exist with minor differences, but they amount to the same attributes and outcomes.

Where T is trust, C is credibility, R is reliability, A is authenticity and P is perceived self-interest.

If we apply a score of 1 to 10 to each of the components (1 being the least, 10 being the most, bearing in mind that for perceived self-interest a 1 means completely serving the greater good, while a 10 means completely in service of one’s own needs, wants and desires), and apply the formula, a figure of between 1 and 1000 for trust will emerge. In my experience, scores are generally between 50 and 300 (ish), but the most important factor in this is that you are consistent when you score different people and/or the same people at different times. Any mathematician will see from the outset that perceived self-interest has a huge impact on the overall trust score – that stands to reason, as you are far less likely to trust someone who you perceive to have their own agenda as opposed to someone who is in it for the betterment of society and others.

How You Can Quickly Assess Trust Levels

Time to be hands on!! Think of an individual who you have a trusted relationship with… it could be a colleague, partner, friend, parent, anybody really where you have a 2-way trusted relationship.

Now, allocate a score from 1 to 10 for each of the components in the Trust formula. As a rule of thumb:

  • For Credibility –

    • 1 is no credibility, comes across as a total novice on conversation subjects; and

    • 10 is the complete authority on matters arising in the relationship, should be writing the guidebook and giving Ted talks on them.

  • For Reliability –

    • 1 is completely unreliable – nothing is ever completed on time or of the required quality.

    • 10 is utterly reliable no matter what – this person delivers top quality work, of their own volition ahead of time and injects drive into everything they do.

  • For Authenticity –

    • 1 is utterly unauthentic. Completely false in all respects, changing their persona to suit their perception of what will show them in the most favourable light.

    • 10 is completely and unconditionally authentic in all that they do. They wear their heart on their sleeve and truly embrace all aspects of integrity.

  • For Perceived Self-Interest –

    • 1 is completely altruistic – everything this person does is for the greater good and they gladly own outcomes and/or requirements that may not serve them in any way, as long as they can understand how it helps wider society.

    • 10 is truly and utterly self-centered. Would stab their own Grandmother in the back if it would further their own agenda. Only thinks of number One!!

Don’t give this too much thought – rough approximations work just as well as in-depth analysis. Provided you are consistent with how you score different people, a picture of where your trusted relationships and those that need more work lie will emerge.

How You Can Assess Where to Target Interactions to Build Trust

Now we can look at how this can be useful to you on a day-to-day basis – just what is that Springboard referred to in the title? This is where the process gets really interesting!!

Take one example that you scored and look at the scores for each attribute. Lower scores for Credibility, Reliability and/or Authenticity, alongside higher scores for Perceived Self-Interest, have the biggest impact on the final Trust score. With that in mind, you can drill down into these scores and analyse why you perceive this person to be worthy of that score. It may be because of a particular experience or occurrence, or down to a more general perception you have of them – either is equally valid, but it is important to gain that understanding of the rationale behind your feelings towards that person.

Now we need to refer back to our accepted tenets of trust, more specifically that trust is generally a reciprocated element of a relationship. If you can build your trust in someone, it should also build their trust in you. So, when we look deeper at why we trust somebody a certain amount, we can target the interactions we have with them, to improve our perception of them, in turn building our trust in them and their trust in us. A happy by-product is that the work you put in to improve the trust between you and them, will almost certainly improve the relationship on a holistic level at the same time. You may need to be ingenuitive in how you improve your perception of the other party, and it does take significant effort to apply this theory, particularly when it is new to you. You will, however, find that as time passes and you become more adept at steering relationships towards trust, it becomes second nature and you can quickly see where and how to target interactions based upon previous experiences.

I would like to round up by talking about an example of when I was able to use this to great effect. A new Senior Manager was taking over the area I worked within. They were known to some of my peers, and I had been warned, by one in particular, not to trust them, as they had a vicious personal agenda that they would stand on anyone to achieve (this advice was backed up by specific examples where they had u-turned on a pre-arranged strategy in front of C-Suite executives, and left my peer to fight for what he felt was right unsupported). Knowing that it was my perception of the new manager that would guide the relationship, I parked the advice from my peer, and used the initial discussion the new manager and I had to gauge how I would score them, by talking specifically about goals, objectives, drivers, desires and plans. This was a very enlightening conversation, and I could tell that they were probing me in a similar way. Straight after the meeting, I applied the formula to the new manager and noted that authenticity and perceived self-interest were the main factors affecting the overall trust score.

Thinking more deeply I surmised that the reasons I had scored them less favourably for authenticity was because I felt that they showed a tendency to follow what they thought would please their leaders, not necessarily what was good for our customers or our team. Likewise, for perceived self-interest, this same tendency seemed selfish to me, as they appeared to be looking after their own progression ahead of the development of our team and product offerings. There must have been a reason why they appeared to put satisfying the whim of their leaders ahead of all else, as the organisation was avid and overt in promoting customers and people first in all that it did.

I decided to gain a deeper understanding of the pressures and demands placed upon the new manager, and it transpired that they were party to discussions and information that I was not, particularly around Product direction and vision. I asked to be involved in these discussions, which began straight away. As a result, I could completely empathise with the position the new manager was in. I could see that, whilst appearing to be only looking after number one, the new manager was acting on higher level strategic outcomes that were not yet ready to be socialised with the wider team (myself included). Having said that, that simple effort of me attempting to gain that insight into the new manager’s world quickly built a bond of trust that saw us rapidly become trusted partners for one another, and an exemplar for all other managers of our respective levels and roles in the organisation. The open dialogue between us that developed as a result of my steering towards better trust also served our team extremely well as we openly exuded that trust, both between us as individuals and towards the team. This meant the team were fully in the picture in terms of their understanding and feeling of vision, direction and ethos that supported the delivery of high-value products by informed, empowered people.

Attainment and application of trust does take time, effort, deep thought and energy. Having said that, the results of building that trust can deliver exponential value in terms of organisational cohesion, quality of interactions and shared vision and direction. Trust is also a key enabler for servant leadership, as true trust empowers relationships (and people). A team where trust exists will achieve far more than one where personal motives, strategic vision and organisational direction are in question. That has to start somewhere, and targeting relationships where trust can be improved upon for development is a powerful action that any (and perhaps all) members of a team should feel an obligation towards.

Next time somebody says to you, ‘I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them’, ask them the question ‘Have you considered the CRAP that is Trust?’.

By Paul Dixon


Any Questions?



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