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Why Trust Is Critical And What To Do When It's Gone

Trust is critical to the success of any organisation. A study completed by Paul Zak (author of The Neuroscience of Trust) found that in comparison with organisations where there is low trust, high trust companies report 74% less stress, 50% higher productivity and 76% more engagement. But trust is a fickle thing and while taking time to build, it can be broken in a heartbeat.

Trust killers

Leaders can often appear to be reluctant to take action, particularly during times of uncertainty. Inaction can be a cause of frustration, suspicion and scepticism for people and these feelings can also lead to fear. When people live in a state of fear due to perceived threats such as organisational restructures, poorly managed change or dysfunctional leadership their security and certainty is threatened. Why trust is critical and what to do when it’s gone

Additionally, too much competition between employees when it comes to achieving targets does nothing to foster an environment of trust. Competition runs the risk of undermining, cheating and deception. At the first sign of trouble, fingers point in all directions trying to deflect blame onto others. Some organisations resemble bus depots because so many people are thrown under the bus! This can then lead to gossip and when people are talking about each other or about their leaders, this is a clear sign that trust is low.

On the flip side, trust can be restored with time, effort and focus. Most importantly, a culture of trust starts at the top and will filter down throughout the organisation. Start by focusing on others first, increasing collaboration and communication and building transparency into as much as you can. Remember, building trust is a journey, not an event.

Build a foundation of trust

There are five areas to focus on to build and maintain trust:
  1. Walk your talk

    Ensuring that you do what you say you will do and are consistent in your words and actions speaks volumes in organisations. As a leader you are constantly on show, being watched by those around you. Subconsciously we are always observing what others say and do. Being aware and responsive to this helps build credibility and respect from those around us.

  2. Be present 

    When we aren't present in conversations the same part of the brain that experiences physical pain is activated. Your brain is unable to differentiate between the sensation of physical and emotional pain, it just experiences pain. By focusing on the person talking, looking them in the eye and engaging in the conversation fully, you are sending messages to the other person's brain that you are not a threat to them or rejecting them in any way. 

  3. Listen to understand

    One of the biggest issues, which leads to miscommunication errors and missed connection, is that we listen to speak, not listen to understand another's point of view. In Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words, Oscar Trimboli explains most people speak at 125 words per minute but our minds process words at 400 per minute so a large gap exists between what you want to say and what you are actually saying. Slowing down gives others the chance to open up and communicate further, and deeper. It's when we start listening to the unsaid things that we start to transform our relationships for the better. 

  4. Share common ground 

    When you have things in common with people you establish rapport and build connection. Neurologically our brains look for certainty because the more certainty we have, the more comfortable we are in our environment. When we have certainty with someone we build connection and connection creates trust. Through simply being curious and showing interest in others you will start to find these commonalities.

  5. Be vulnerable 

    In his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A leadership fable, Patrick Lencioni talks about using vulnerability to create trust by teams being able to talk about "weaknesses, skill deficiencies, interpersonal shortcomings, mistakes, and requests for help". When we are vulnerable with each other, trust is strengthened.
By creating trust in organisations people are able to focus more on what needs to be achieved, by whom and by when, rather than on more self-serving activities. The cost of not building trust is significantly high, both in terms of money and energy, which has a flow on to culture and productivity. All factors critical to the success of an organisation.

Author Credits

Wendy Born helps leaders maximise their talent and strengths to achieve extraordinary results. As an engaging, facilitator, coach and speaker, she works with executives, senior leaders and leadership teams to create high-performance organisations that deliver that WOW-factor. She is also the author of The Languages of Leadership published by Major Street. For more information, visit her website at: www.wendyborn.com.au

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