Building Higher Trust 39 Transparent or Opaque?

September 17, 2021

I was giving my talk on Trust and Transparency for a group recently, and the host had an interesting twist about being transparent or opaque.  He said that he knew certain members of management who were experts at being “opaque.” 

I really liked use of the word opaque, which is the opposite of transparent.  For this article, I wanted to explore the different forces operating on a manager which may lead to higher opacity and how being opaque destroys trust.

Here I will use an impending reorganization where some people will be terminated as an example. What are some of the rationalizations that would cause some managers to be opaque?

Fear that people will become enraged

If there is bad news in the offing, the managers might be concerned about letting the information out early because of fear of retribution or sabotage. If it becomes known that people will be losing jobs, then some people might feel (wrongly) there is not much to lose. Of course, there is a lot to lose any time we burn bridges with people: especially former employers.

My experience is that if people are treated with respect and dignity, even if the news is not pleasant, the vast majority of them will act like adults and actually be appreciative of the transparent information far in advance so preparations for a logical transition can be made.  I have witnessed workers keeping a good attitude and being productive during a layoff process right up to the final hour at work and left with sadness coupled with dignity.

What really infuriates workers is to find out about a discontinuity on the day of the announcement, when they realize it has been in the planning stages for months.  In that case, you might expect someone to throw a monkey wrench in the gears on his way out the door.

Let people know about a troublesome situation well in advance and tell them that you are letting them know out of respect. You can say that you are trusting them to conduct themselves with dignity even though the news is not good.

Using lack of perfect plans as an excuse

Managers often do not want to divulge information because the plans are not 100% set in stone.  They reason that some information will lead to questions that cannot be answered, so they wait until all the details are known.  One could always make that excuse, and yet people tolerate a lack of specific details better than being kept in the dark wondering about the big picture.

Plans are always subject to revision, so it is far better to involve employees when the plans are not yet firm, because they would have the opportunity to help shape the future, even if only slightly. That involvement in the process normally leads to a higher level of acceptance in the end than if employees are kept in the dark then mouse-trapped with the bad news at the final moment.

Financial Embarrassment

Often in a transition, it becomes obvious that the people making the plans are the “haves” and the people impacted in the organization are the “have-nots.”  Total transparency would mean that workers become painfully aware that they are being abused financially while the bosses are taking down huge stock options or other seemingly lavish benefits.

Managers would rather not have everyone in the organization know their incentive packages or the size of their golden parachutes. It is just too embarrassing. While this reason to be opaque is actually reasonable, it does raise a huge caution flag. If management is hiding things they would be embarrassed about, isn’t that an ethical breach that needs to be addressed?

Clueless Managers

Another form of embarrassment that leads to opacity is that people may find out that the managers they work for are actually clueless. They do not know what they are doing and are “winging it” on a daily basis.  If everyone was aware of the stupidity of some corporate decisions, the managers might be subject to a lynch mob mentality among the troops.

Since you cannot cure “stupid,” the people are going to be even more frustrated because the whole need for a reorganization might have been unnecessary. 

Wanting to retain the best people

When there is bad news to share, it impacts everyone in the organization.  The best people will have the greatest opportunity to pick up a job elsewhere for similar or even better pay and benefits.  The dregs of the organization have less opportunity to go elsewhere, so if management lets out too much information too early, they are likely to end up keeping the people they want to lose and losing the people they wish to keep. Opacity seems like a strategy to forestall the exodus of needed top talent. Of course, this logic ignores the fact that the best people will be even more likely to leave once it is revealed they have been left out of the loop all along. Trust is built when information is shared freely and openly.

Needing time for cross-training

Some managers will keep mum on an upcoming reorganization to allow a kind of preparation phase where people are cross-trained on other jobs ostensibly for the purpose of building bench strength. Workers see through this ploy rather quickly, so the opacity cover is blown, and it becomes a kind of game environment for several months. The antidote here is to be transparent about cross-training and have a continual process to keep skills broad and well sharpened.  With that strategy, the need to be opaque about why training is being done vanishes, and people appreciate the variety as well as the opportunity to learn additional skill sets. 

The other side of the coin

I do not claim that it is always a bad strategy to be opaque in the face of changes.  Sometimes there are legal restrictions on what information can be shared.  Managers can go to jail if they divulge information about an impending move that will have a material impact on stock valuation. Also, it may be a disaster to have suppliers or the competition find out about a future move. Managers need to use good judgment as to when and how to divulge information.

They also need to be aware that the rumor mill picks up on minute radar signals throughout the organization. It is not possible to truly hide the fact that “something is going on.” When people are intentionally kept in the dark, they tend to make up stories of what is going on to fill the vacuum. The rumors are normally far worse than the action contemplated, so the beleaguered managers must do damage control on things that are not going to happen while trying to tiptoe around the truth. Trust is lost in such times because people feel managers are “playing games” with them.

My point is that it is far too easy to fall victim to some of the excuses or subterfuges mentioned above.  It is usually wise to put a skeptical stance on any gag rule. Reason: Eventually the truth will come out, so any perceived advantage of not telling people is eventually lost along with the long-term damage to trust that comes with being opaque.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. Website www.leadergrow.com   BLOG www.thetrustambassador.com He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals,  Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind

 

 


Building Higher Trust 38 Tricky Questions About Trust

September 9, 2021

In my leadership classes, I often like to pose four tricky questions about the nature of trust. As people grapple with the questions, it helps them sort out for themselves a deeper meaning of the words and how they might be applied in their own world.  The four questions are:

What is the relationship between trust and vulnerability?

How can you trust someone you fear?

Is it possible to respect someone you do not trust? and

Can you trust someone you do not respect?

I have spent a lot of time bouncing these questions around in my head. I am not convinced that I have found the correct answers (or even that correct answers exist). I have had to clarify in my own mind the exact meanings of the words trust, vulnerability, fear, and respect.

Before you read this article further, stop here and ponder the four questions for yourself. See if you can come to some answers that might be operational for you. 

Thinking about these concepts, makes them become more powerful for us. I urge you to pose the three questions (without giving your own answers) to people in your workgroup. Then have a quality discussion about the possible answers. You will find it is a refreshing and deep conversation to have. 

Here are my answers (subject to change in the future as I learn more):

  1. What is the relationship between trust and vulnerability? 

Trust implies vulnerability. When you trust another person, there is always a chance that the person will disappoint you. Ironically, it is the extension of your trust that drives a reciprocal enhancement of the other person’s trust in you.

If you are a leader and you want people in your organization to trust you more, one way to achieve that is to show more trust in them. I call that dichotomy the “First Law of Trust.”

That concept is very challenging for many managers and leaders. They sincerely want to gain more trust, but find it hard to extend higher trust to others.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “It is better to trust and be disappointed every once in a while than to not trust and be miserable all the time.”

  1. How can you trust someone you fear? 

Fear and trust are nearly opposites. I believe trust cannot kindle in an organization when there is fear, so one way to gain more trust is to create an environment with less fear.

In the vast majority of cases, trust and lack of fear go together. My quote on that concept is, “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”

The question I posed is whether trust and fear can ever exist at the same time.  I think it is possible to trust someone you fear. That thought is derived from how I define trust. 

My favorite definition is that if I trust you, I believe you will always do what you believe is in my best interest – even if I don’t appreciate it at the time. Based on that logic, I can trust someone even if I am afraid of what she might do as long as I believe she is acting in my best interest. 

For example, I may be afraid of my boss because I believe she is going to give me a demotion and suggest I get some training on how to get along with people better. I am afraid of her because of the action she will take, while on some level I am trusting her to do what she believes is right for me.

Let’s look at another example. Suppose your supervisor is a bully who yells at people when they do not do things to his standards or when you have different opinions. You do not appreciate the abuse and are fearful every time you interact with him. You do trust him because he has kept the company afloat during some difficult times and has never missed a payroll, but you do not like his tactics.


3. Is it possible to respect someone you do not trust?

This question gets pretty complicated. In most situations, trust and respect go hand in hand. That is easy to explain and understand. Is it possible to conjure up a situation where you can respect someone you do not yet trust?  Sure, we do this all the time.

We respect people for the things they have achieved, the skills they possess, or the position they have reached. We respect many people we have not even met.  For example, I respect Nelson Mandela, but I have no basis yet to trust him, even though I have a predisposition to trust him based on his reputation.

Another example is a new boss. I respect her for the position and the ability to hold a job that has the power to offer me employment. I probably do not trust her immediately. I will wait to see if my respect forms the foundation on which trust grows based on her actions over time.

If someone has let me down in the past, and I have lost respect for that person, then there is no basis for trust at all. This leads to the last question:

  1. Can you trust someone you do not respect?

 I find it difficult to think of a single example where I can trust someone that I do not respect. That is because respect is the basis on which trust is built. If I do not respect an individual, I believe it is impossible for me to trust her.

Therefore, respect becomes an enabler of trust, and trust is the higher-order phenomenon. You first have to respect a person, then go to work on building trust. 

Conclusion

People use the words trust, fear, respect, and vulnerability freely every day. It is rare that they stop and think about the relationships between the concepts. Thinking about and discussing these ideas ensures that communication has a common ground for understanding, so take some time in your workgroup to wrestle with these questions.

I welcome your opinions on my thoughts here because I am eager to learn other ways of thinking about trust.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

 


Building Higher Trust 37 Degrees of Trust

September 3, 2021

Most people recognize that there are degrees of trust; you can trust someone a little or a lot.

Many people use the word “trust” as if it is a singular concept. You either trust someone or you don’t.  A common perception is that the word means one thing, as Webster puts it, “Trust – belief in the honesty, reliability, etc. of another.”  The “etc.” in that definition actually covers a lot of ground.

I believe trust is far more complex than can be captured in a single concept.  Picture an infinite variety of types of trust and numerous levels of trust for each type.

We might consider the different shades of trust to be as plentiful as the different shades of color, and the intensities of trust going from fully saturated to almost transparent. I will share six categories of trust with some specific examples.

Notice that in every single category there has been significant degradation of trust since the start of 2020. The world is a very different place these days.

Recognize this is not an exhaustive treatment of the types of trust, but rather some typical concepts to illustrate the variety and complexity of trust.

  1. Trust Between People

Between any two people who know each other, there is some balance of trust, rather like a bank account balance. The variety of trusting relationships are nearly infinite. Examples are easy to describe, like parent-child, spouse, boss, peers, people who you have not met but know online, and employees.

In every pair of individuals there exist two threads of trust: one is person A’s trust in person B, the other thread is the reverse of that. The levels of trust from one person to the other are never exactly duplicated in reverse.

The level of trust fluctuates on a moment-to-moment basis as we go about our daily interactions. It is like there are tiny deposits or withdrawals going on whenever these two people interact in any way (even virtually).

Sometimes a special circumstance allows a large deposit. Often small withdrawals can become large ones if not handled correctly. I call this “The Ratchet Effect,” meaning trust is usually built up with many small clicks of the ratchet but can quickly spin back to zero if the pawl becomes disengaged. Here is a brief video that explains The Ratchet Effect.

  1. Trust in Systems or Agencies

We have some level of faith in a myriad of supportive groups at all times. We often take these things for granted.  We trust (or don’t trust) governments at all levels to take care of our society. Other examples in this category are easy to name. For example, we have a level of trust with the military, FDA, banking, the Stock Market, the media.

Trust in the media is particularly interesting because a lack of trust in this system has a huge impact on our trust in all the other agencies. Data shows that trust in the media in the United States is low at 45%, according to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer. This means that most people do not believe what they are being told is happening in the world, at least not fully. The data also shows that many people suspend judgment on what they will believe until they have received the same information at least three to five times from different trusted sources.

  1. Trust in products and supply chains

Our trust in products is also something we take for granted until we experience a product failure that grabs our attention. Many of us did not recognize how fragile and complex the various supply chains were until they were broken due to the COVID Virus.

When you stop and think of the trust we place in products of all kinds, it is staggering.  Consider the following tiny subset of products we rely on: medications, automobiles, airplanes, tools, internet, and elevators.  How often do you worry when getting into an elevator that the cable will break?

  1. Trust in Concepts

We all have various levels of trust with certain concepts or ideals and rarely stop to think about them.  For example, we might trust in: the power of prayer, positive thinking, Murphy’s Law, supply and demand, the value of education, or living by values.

These concepts help define our relationship to the world and form our total worldview.  They were programmed into us by the forces impacting us during our formative years. They govern our sense of what is right and wrong and are the basis of our moral and ethical perspectives on life.

  1. Trust in Organizations

We can describe some highly tangible examples of trust in institutions. For example, your level of trust in your own organization, the Red Cross, your grocery store, your auto mechanic, a hospital, the insurance company.

Any time we interface with any organization, we are relying on or modifying our perception of our trust in that entity. We do not stop and think about it, but our level of confidence is fluctuating based on every interaction, large or small.

For example, if the insurance company finds some fine print in your contract that states you cannot be compensated for your water-damaged house because you could not prove it was specifically caused by “the weight of ice and snow,” you begin to wonder why bother to have insurance in the first place. In other words, you no longer trust that what you think you purchased is actually what you purchased.

I know a physician who went into a hospital for a routine knee operation and had his leg amputated above the knee by mistake. Imagine the trust betrayal he felt when he awoke from the anesthesia.

  1. Trust in Infrastructure

Many of the items in this article are things we take for granted. Trust in infrastructure is probably the thing we take for granted the most.  We turn on the light switch and expect there to be electricity. We turn on the faucet and expect potable water to come out.

We expect not to have any deep potholes in the road (although some of us get disappointed on that one).  Public transportation is expected to be there on time barring some kind of natural disaster.

We expect the school bus to come by to pick up our kids. When we drive over a bridge, we rarely worry that it will collapse and kill us.

All of the infrastructure items are things we just assume will be there whenever we want to use them, and we don’t spend energy worrying about them unless there is some kind of emergency situation.

The list could go on forever, and the possibilities for positive or negative trust are infinite. For every situation, there is a unique aspect to the trust that exists between individuals.  In addition to different types of trust, there are different degrees or levels of trust, and the variety of these is also infinite.

Conclusion

The different types of trust are really infinite.  We just do not pay attention to the many ways trust is manifest in our lives unless there is some kind of failure. Also, a systemic issue such as COVID 19 can impact how we experience trust across the board.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

 


Building Higher Trust 36 Keep Values Simple

August 26, 2021

Few people would doubt the impact of a good set of values for any organization. Values provide a bedrock of beliefs on which leaders build the culture of trust for their group.

The true power of values lies in having everyone in the organization not only understand them but live them every day.  That is why I believe it is a mistake to make the values too complex.

Some leaders get enamored by the idea of values and create a set of complex rules that would be very difficult for people to remember.  It is not uncommon to have a list of 20-30 values published by a leader. 

This sounds like a good idea on the surface; after all, the more values we have the better, right?  Not so fast!  If the list is cumbersome and hard to remember, then people will have a difficult time following them every day. 

Coach K

Coach Krzyzewski of the Duke Basketball Program modeled a kind of philosophy with values that helps illustrate the power of a short memorable list. He has used the analogy of the “fist” with each finger being one powerful value that is used to create passion and unity among his teams.

The fingers represent 1) Communication, 2) Trust, 3) Collective Responsibility, 4) Care, and 5) Pride.  By centering all activities in relation to a powerful fist, Coach K has nurtured a consistent champion level team that has won multiple National Championships.

Lou Holtz

Another coach who understood the benefits of a simple philosophy of values was Lou Holtz.  He took over 6 collegiate football programs in his career. He never inherited a winning team, but never failed to take that team to a Bowl Game by his second season at the latest.  His values were boiled down to only three concepts:  1) Do what’s right, 2) Do the best you can, and 3) Treat others like you would like to be treated.  The incredible simplicity of this philosophy made it easy to translate the passion embodied in these values into the hearts of all players.  The results speak for themselves. 

Wegmans

Simple but great values are not just for sports teams. Any organization will benefit from a memorable set of foundational concepts. My home town of Rochester, NY is blessed to be the home of Wegmans, one of the most successful chains of grocery stores in the world and a frequent top placement in the 100 best places to work in America.

The current CEO, Colleen Wegman, said of their values, “We’re committed to our Who We Are Values because they set a strong foundation for us as a company – a foundation of caring about people and each other.” The Wegmans values are very simple: 1) Caring, 2) Respect, 3) High Standards, 4) Making a Difference, and 5) Empowerment. 

Challenge Your Team

If you are a leader in an organization, challenge your senior team to come up with a handful of powerful words that describe the essence of your core values.  Keep the list of values short so everyone will remember and live them daily.

I believe less is more when establishing the values of an organization.  It is a mistake to have a long shopping list of values that cannot be easily be remembered by everyone in the organization.  Reason: once the list becomes more than a handful of concepts, it loses power because people cannot internalize them easily. 

Would you agree that it is better to have 5-6 powerful values than a string of 20-30 ideals for an organization? 

To illustrate this, which of the two lists of values below would be more powerful in your opinion:

Long list:

Honesty, openness, trust, fulfillment, employee satisfaction, great place to work, sincerity, reinforcement, caring, pull your weight, humor, good will, customer focus, develop people, aggressive, committed, communications, speak your truth, results oriented, never quit, passion, mutual success, and credibility.

Short list:

Trust, Integrity, Respect, Customer Focus, and Teamwork

I hope you agree that the short list would be much more powerful.

 

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

 


Building Trust 35 Assume Best Intent

August 19, 2021

One way to consistently build trust with people is to assume best intent rather than jump to negative conclusions. The technique can make the environment in an organization much more helpful.

Assuming best intent is rather easy to achieve if you just train people to not react reflexively. Human beings have a curious way of jumping to conclusions when something done by another person does not track with expectations. 

Jumping to Conclusions

We jump to assign blame and think of all the evil things that might be behind the action. In doing so, we fail to take into account a myriad of alternate scenarios that might explain the paradox as being something more benign. Maybe it was a misunderstanding rather than something sinister.

We have all experienced this phenomenon, and there is a simple antidote. Assume the best intent rather than the worst.

Electronic Communications

A place to view this phenomenon most easily is in e-mail communication. One person will dash off a note and leave out a critical part of the background for an action.  The person reading the note will say to himself, “Ed is clueless. He obviously is out to try to embarrass me with these statements.  I don’t care if he is having a bad day or not, he has no business making these statements without getting his facts straight.” 

What started out as an innocent note from Ed, turns into the fuel for an e-grenade battle. The response coming back to Ed assumes the worst intent, so it is far off base in Ed’s mind. Ed writes back a blistering note, and we are off to the races.

Several days later, after numerous notes and escalating distribution lists, some manager steps in and asks these two feuding juveniles to stop the food fight.  All of this acrimony and conflict could have been avoided if the recipient of Ed’s first note assumed the best intent rather than the worst.

He would have gone over to Ed’s desk and said, “Your note was confusing to me. I am not sure I follow how you concluded there was no information coming out of my group.”   Then Ed could have explained how that was not his message at all, the words just did not convey what he was trying to say.

This action gives Ed the chance to write a simple note of apology and clarification, which he is happy to do because he was approached in an adult manner.

The technique of assuming best intent is helpful for all forms of communication, not just the online environment. If we teach people to assume the best intent whenever there is a disconnect, it prevents people from going off on each other inappropriately. This habit creates a significant reduction in conflict, and since conflict often gets amplified in the pressure cooker of the work environment, this little remedy can save a lot of hurtful turmoil and build higher trust.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

 


Building Higher Trust 34 First Step to Higher Trust

August 13, 2021

What advice do you give others and yourself on how to build higher levels of trust? We all know trust is a key ingredient for any organization to be successful. In these in draconian times, many leaders find the ability to build and maintain trust is next to impossible.

There are countless books and articles on leadership. Many of them focus on the area of building trust. Often these writings focus on what a leader needs to have in order to build trust.

For example, one author suggests that a leader must have both credibility and character to garner higher trust. I agree with those two elements, but my focus is on helping leaders change what they do. If you change what you do, then you change who you are, and you get better results.

Of all the trust building skills leaders possess, the ability to reinforce candor is the most powerful and elusive. This is the behavior of making people feel glad when they bring up something a leader has done that they feel is not right. Most leaders find it impossible to reinforce people when they offer a candid critique. Reason: Leaders act from their own paradigm of what is right, so when an employee suggests an action is wrong, they get defensive and push back. This has the effect of punishing the employee for being candid.

By reinforcing candor, leaders create a safe environment where trust grows easily and rapidly. The reason is the psychological safety triggers transparent communication in both directions.

If we can teach leaders to reinforce people when they speak their truth, those leaders will have a giant head start at building trust. It is not rocket science: it is much more important than rocket science.

In my business, I coach leaders every day on how to be more effective. There are a thousand things to think about when trying to lead an organization effectively. These skills range from being consistent to preventing the formation of exclusive cliques or even just how to write an effective e-mail message.

The first skill I work to instill in any leader is the ability to reinforce candor. Why?  If leaders gain the ability and humility to accomplish this feat, they will find all the other leadership skills and traits come easily. If they cannot reinforce candor, then the other skills or activities of leadership will be blunted and ineffective because employees cannot trust them with unpleasant truths.

 

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

 


Building Higher Trust 33 More Complex Than We Think

August 6, 2021

I have been studying trust for several decades, teach it in corporate and academic settings, and have written four books on it.

Trust such a common word that it is used numerous times a day without thinking. Just listen to the advertisements on TV, and you will hear the word trust in the majority of them.

Many people have a misconception about the concept of trust. They think of trust as a singular concept when the word is used in daily conversation. They picture it as a kind of bond between them and another person.  It takes on a singular connotation: either they trust another person or do not trust her at some level right now.

Brainstorming Meaning

The way I get groups to think about trust at a deeper level is by asking them point blank what the word means. There is always a kind of pause and awkward silence for a few seconds as people try to define it. 

Then, someone will offer that trust is the confidence that another person will perform in a certain way.  Someone else will chime in that trust is taking a risk that they could be disappointed.  A third person will add that trust is about having shared values. Then someone will add that trust is having their back or sticking up for them. Once the ball gets rolling, a group can come up with a couple dozen unique definitions of trust in about 15 minutes. 

Trust is All Around Us

Now the group is ready to entertain the idea that trust is a multi-faceted concept that exists not only between people but with organizations, products, services, and all kinds of systems.  People get the idea that trust is ubiquitous and is all around them in every waking moment of their day. 

They recognize that before they get to work in the morning, they have experienced trust (usually unconsciously) several hundred times. 

In the Bathroom

They walk into the bathroom and turn on the lights. They trust the whole system to provide light without thinking about where the electricity is coming from unless there is some kind of rare electrical failure. 

They turn on the water and just expect potable water to come out without any problem. From the time they first open their eyes until they reach the breakfast table, trust is experienced dozens of times; then things get really complicated. 

At the Table

At breakfast they are confident that the vitamin pill they are taking is safe even though they have no idea who made the pill and what ingredients went into it.  They just swallow the pill and expect it to help. 

In the Car

They get into their car and turn the ignition key.  Now, inside the engine, there are thousands of explosions each minute that allow the car to move while they peacefully enjoy the classical music on their favorite station and crank up the air conditioning if it is a hot day. 

They have no worry when they press down on the brakes that the car will stop before hitting the truck that is stopped in front of them. 

They drive over numerous bridges and overpasses without blinking an eye and do not think of the consequences if the structure would become unsafe.  This is nearly always the case, even though there is ample visible evidence that some structures are not very safe at all.

All Parts of Life

On and on it goes all day every day that they simply take for granted things will work as designed even though they recognize on occasion things might fail for some obscure reason. The failures are so remote that they put them out of their mind unless something unusual is going on.

Trust Between People

Now let’s focus on how trust between people is built and lost for all of us.

In general, we all focus our conscious energy about trust on the relationships we have with other people. Often, we forget about the transactional nature of trust. It is impacted by everything (seen and unseen) that happens between people.  Trust is bilateral. I trust you and you trust me at some level, and the levels are not the same. 

Something happens, and I may trust you more while you trust me less.  The whole thing is dynamic and constant. Most of the trust interactions are going on in our subconscious minds. We have a kind of score card in our mind that is like the balance in a bank account.

Many authors, including me, have likened trust to a bank account where we have a balance, and we make deposits and withdrawals. The size of the deposit or withdrawal will vary depending on what is happening, and the transaction may be totally subconscious. We can make a huge withdrawal of trust with another person and be totally oblivious to it.

The Erosion of Trust

Many people observe an erosion of trust over time as they witness the world around them changing. A visible example of this situation is our trust in the media.  Since you can dial up whatever version of the news you want to hear, the credibility of any one station is suspect at best.

My wife sent a check in the first-class mail. It took more than 30 days for the supplier to get the check, and they were only about 400 miles away. That kind of situation creates doubt about the entire system.  

Conclusion

Trust is more complex and ubiquitous in our lives than we realize.  Try to be more aware of this aspect of trust, and you can see it working for you more consciously on a daily basis. It is fun, and it certainly is an eye opener.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

 


Building Higher Trust 32 Trust Versus Walking on Eggs

July 30, 2021

Have you ever been in a situation where you had to choose words carefully, like you were walking on eggs?  This is indicative of a low trust situation where communication is tedious at best.

In this hostile environment people are ready to pounce on any opportunity to misinterpret or bend whatever is being presented.  You must be hypersensitive to every word and inflection to avoid people misreading your intent.  Stephen M.R. Covey describes it this way:

“When the relationship is unified and harmonious, we can almost communicate without words.  Where there is high trust and good feelings we don’t have to ‘watch our words’ at all.  We can smile or not and still communicate meaning and achieve understanding.  When the relationship is not well established, a chapter of words won’t be sufficient to communicate meaning because meanings are not found in words – they are found in people.”

Once you achieve an environment of trust, all forms of communication become easier.  Big mistakes are rare because any small communication glitch will be surfaced and dealt with before it becomes an issue. You can relax and be yourself in all your communications.

In areas where trust is high, you can see lots of evidence of it.  I always describe it as a backyard in winter.  When there are rabbits in the neighborhood, there is ample evidence with tracks in the snow. Groups who have high trust act and react differently from those with lower trust levels. There is an esprit de corps among people. They laugh more and seem to have a great time being together. They struggle with problems just like everyone else, but they climb over them quickly and move on.

The body language in these groups is one of love and support for one another.  People will not tolerate backbiting or badmouthing.  Respect is on their faces.  They volunteer to help each other willingly and go out of their way to be kind.  When they describe their improvement programs, they beam with pride.

If you walk into a conference room full of people with high trust, it takes only a few seconds to sense it.  People don’t even have to talk. Unfortunately, even in the best groups, things are not amicable all the time. Occasionally, there will be setbacks and problems to overcome.

A hallmark of a trusting environment is that letdowns don’t impact the climate very long.  Human beings are fallible. No two people can work in close proximity without one letting the other down eventually.

If an atmosphere of trust has been nurtured, the event will trigger an exchange that is open and honest. “When you were late, I felt bad because it meant I would need to cover for both of us.” This is then followed by reinforcement for pointing out the gaff: “I really appreciate that you told me. I didn’t realize the impact it was having on you. I’ll try to be on time from now on.” The bad feelings never get a chance to escalate.  In fact, the existence of a gaff only ends up enhancing the relationship because it is extinguished so quickly.

In an atmosphere of trust, you get tremendous progress from improvement initiatives because disconnects will quickly surface. This avoids pursuing a mechanical improvement program that lacks support from all constituents.

The suggestions offered here will work, provided there is good consensus among the team. Test for this commitment often, and don’t operate in a vacuum.

You can benefit from these ideas as an individual contributor, but you cannot effectively drive them in the organization above you. You need the support of your boss and peers.  Frequently, that is a major stumbling block. What you can do is embrace and use these tools in the environment you control.  Demonstrate their power by example and offer to expand the ideas beyond your current boundaries.  If you get pushback, don’t pressure people.  Instead, just continue to gain the mileage in your area and lead by example.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

 


Building Higher Trust 31 Degrees of Trust

July 23, 2021

Many people use the word trust as if it is a singular concept. You either trust someone or you don’t. Of course, most people realize there are degrees of trust: you can trust someone a little or a lot. A common perception is that the word means one thing, as Webster puts it, “Trust – belief in the honesty, reliability, etc. of another.”  The “etc.” in that definition actually covers a lot of ground.

 I believe trust is far more complex than can be captured in a single concept.  Picture an infinite variety of types of trust and numerous levels of trust for each type.  We might consider the different shades of trust to be as plentiful as the different shades of color, and the intensities of trust going from fully saturated to almost transparent. I will share six categories of trust with some specific examples. Recognize this is not an exhaustive treatment of the types of trust, but rather some typical concepts to illustrate the variety and complexity of trust.

Trust Between People

Between any two people who know each other, there is some balance of trust, rather like a bank account balance. The variety of trusting relationships is nearly infinite. Examples are easy to describe, like: parent-child, spouse-spouse, or boss-subordinate.

In every pair of individuals there exist two threads of trust, one is person A’s trust in person B. The other thread is the reverse of that. The levels of trust from one person to the other are never exactly duplicated in reverse. The level of trust fluctuates on a moment-to-moment basis as we go about our daily interactions. It is like there are tiny deposits or withdrawals going on whenever these two people interface in any way (even virtually). Although most deposits are small, sometimes a special circumstance allows a large deposit. Often small withdrawals can become large ones if not handled correctly. I call this “The ratchet effect,” meaning trust is usually built up with many small clicks of the ratchet but can quickly spin back to zero if the pawl becomes disengaged.

Trust in Systems or Agencies

We have some level of faith in a myriad of supportive groups at all times. We often take these things for granted.  We trust (or don’t trust) governments at all levels to take care of our society. People trusted Bernie Madoff and his organization for more than 30 years. Other examples in this category are easy to name. For example, we have some level of trust with the military, FDA, banking, the Stock Market, or the media, although our trust in any one of these entities may have slipped dramatically in recent years.

Trust in the media is particularly interesting because a lack of trust in this system has huge impacts in our trust in all the other agencies. Data shows that trust in the media in the United States is at an all-time low of less than 30%, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. This means that most people do not believe what they are being told is happening in the world, at least not fully. The data also shows that many people suspend judgment on what they will believe until they have received the same information at least three to five times from different trusted sources.

Trust in products

Our trust in products is also something we take for granted until we experience a product failure that grabs our attention.  A student of mine went to a famous pizza establishment last week and ended up in the hospital for several days with food poisoning.  Mattel had to recall numerous infant toys when it was discovered the factories in China did not have control over the suppliers of paint, and there was a potential for lead poisoning of children.

When you stop and think of the trust we place in products of all kinds, it is staggering.  Consider the following tiny subset of products we rely on: medications, automobiles, airplanes, tools, internet, and elevators.  How often do you worry when getting into an elevator that the cable will break?

Trust in Concepts

We all have various levels of trust with certain concepts or ideals and rarely stop to think about them.  For example, we might trust in: the power of prayer, positive thinking, Murphy’s Law, supply and demand, the value of education, or living by values. These concepts help define our relationship to the world and form our total world view.  They were programmed into us by the forces impacting us during our formative years. They govern our sense of what is right and wrong and are the basis of our moral and ethical perspectives on life.

Trust in Organizations

We can describe some highly tangible examples of trust in institutions. For example, your level of trust in your own organization, The Red Cross, your grocery store, your auto mechanic, a hospital, the insurance company. Any time we interface with any organization, we are relying on or modifying our perception of our trust in that entity. We usually do not stop and think about it, but our level of confidence is fluctuating based on every interaction, large or small.

For example, if the insurance company finds some fine print in your contract that states you cannot be compensated for your water-damaged house because you could not prove it was specifically caused by “the weight of ice and snow,” you begin to wonder why bother to have insurance in the first place. In other words, you no longer trust that what you think you purchased is actually what you purchased.

I know a man who went into a hospital for a routine knee operation and had his leg amputated above the knee by mistake. Imagine the trust betrayal he felt when he awoke from the anesthesia.

Trust in Infrastructure

Many of the items in this paper are things we take for granted. Trust in infrastructure is probably the thing we take for granted the most.  We turn on the light switch and expect there to be electricity. We turn on the faucet and expect potable water to come out. We expect not to have any deep potholes in the road (although some of us get disappointed on that one).  Public transportation is expected to be there on time barring some kind of natural disaster. We expect the school bus to come by to pick up our kids. When we drive over a bridge, we rarely worry that it will collapse and kill us. 

All of the infrastructure items are things we just assume will be there whenever we want to use them, and we don’t spend energy worrying about them unless there is some kind of failure due to an emergency situation.

The list could go on forever, and the possibilities for positive or negative trust are infinite. For every situation, there is a unique aspect to the trust that exists between individuals.  In addition to different types of trust, there are different degrees or levels of trust, and the variety of these is also infinite. Let me share just one example of this to clarify.

Trust in one’s boss is one of the more complex and interesting trust relationships in our lives.  We think of it as a single thing, like how much do I really trust my boss right now? Actually, I believe there are several dimensions that make up the level of trust with one’s boss.  Attempting to show this graphically, I tried to form a three dimensional picture of trust but quickly realized there were more than three dimensions that govern how much we trust our boss at any point in time.  Here are five examples to illustrate. Actually, there are probably 20 or so similar dimensions we could describe.

Does your boss really care about you?

Saying she cares about you is not the same thing as acting that way when the chips are down. You know instinctively without being told if your boss is saying wonderful things but really does not care about you as a person. Human beings have very sensitive noses for phony concern. Since we are all that way, it strikes me as odd that so many bosses feign caring about people. Don’t they realize that people instantly pick up on the subterfuge on the inaudible channel?

Does your boss know what he is doing?

If your boss is not competent to manage things in an appropriate way, you will find it difficult to trust him without at least checking up on him frequently. Some clueless bosses surround themselves with competent assistants. That works in terms of getting things done well, but it does not enable you to trust the boss.

Is your boss consistent?

Does your boss habitually do what she says she will do?  If so, you have built up a reliance on her to deliver on promises. That bodes well for your ability to put your trust in her. If your boss is duplicitous, you never know which face she will be wearing today or what to expect in a certain kind of interface. That ambiguity destroys trust.

Does your boss have integrity?

Do you know that your boss will not try to skate by with half-truths or spin in an effort to make people happy? Many leaders mistake popularity for character. A boss who tries to have everyone happy all the time is a weak boss because he or she will make decisions that are not the best ones for the organization.  Do not get the wrong idea. I am not advocating that every boss try to make it difficult for people. I am advocating that the boss needs the integrity to do the right thing at all times, even if it means being unpopular for some percentage of the time.

Does your boss seek to optimize the culture?

Is your boss so consumed with pinching every penny and putting the maximum pressure on people that he has lost the true key to motivation? If he tries to “motivate” people by simply providing incentives while simultaneously grinding everyone down to a bloody stump, people are not going to be motivated, and they are not going to trust him.

These are just five easy tests to determine your level of trust in your boss at any point in time.  There are several other trust criteria we could name.  The point here is that trust in one’s boss is a very complex equation. The degree to which you trust your boss will be a combination of the five things above plus several other factors. It will vary from day to day or even hour to hour, and trust in your boss is only one slice of how you deal with trust issues in your life. Recognize this and be aware of the incredible variety of trust interactions we have daily. We all want people to trust us, and yet we sometimes forget how complex trust is and how it depends on numerous behavioral actions to endure.  

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.

 


Building Higher Trust 30 The Power of Trust

July 16, 2021

Children look at life as seemingly never-ending. As we get older, the realities of mortality become more evident to us. Eventually we all leave the physical world to become part of the spiritual world. In our final few moments of life, the thing that will matter most is the relationships of love and trust we have experienced in our lifetime.

Material goods will not mean much at that time, but the way we have impacted other people will be great comfort in our final moments.

Our personal lives are all about relationships, but what about our professional lives?

In organizations, if there is low trust, you will find apathy and poor performance. Conversely, if leaders have managed to foster a culture of high trust, you will find engagement and enthusiasm. Trust becomes the lubricant that allows everything to work as we hope. Relationships matter just as much in our professional life as they do in our personal life.

Since we have the power to foster higher trust by being authentic and making it safe for others, we have our destiny in our own hands as long as we pay attention to this critical element in our lives. It is happening in our brains every second of every day. 

One of my favorite quotes is “The amount of success and happiness you will achieve in life is a direct function of what is going on between your ears.”  Since we ultimately have the power to control our thoughts, we have the power to achieve a happy and productive life.

It is up to each of us to conduct our lives to optimize the level of trust we can generate with other people. That is the most powerful way of  creating a life well lived.

Bonus video

Here is a brief video on The Power of Trust

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 1000 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations