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August 17, 2021

Trust Breakers Vs. Trust Makers: Behaviors That Change Relationships – #MTtalk Roundup

Yolande Conradie


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©© GettyImages/Malombra76

I don't like gambling. I must be the only person I know who's been to Las Vegas multiple times without ever touching a slot machine. It's not because I think I'm too "holy" to gamble – I simply feel that I work too hard for my money to give it to a machine that, well, I don't trust.

But it turns out that taking my dog for a run is also a gamble. I've always assumed that my neighbors keep their gates closed and their dogs secure inside their yards. But this weekend I discovered that's not the case. And I learned a lot about trust in the process.

A Bad Morning

I go running with my dog most mornings. Yesterday morning, while on our way back – and only three houses away from home – a neighbor's dog jumped against an unsecured gate, rushed out, and immediately attacked us.

My dog is not at all aggressive. But if he feels that I'm under threat, he will protect me – which he valiantly did for the few seconds the attack lasted (it felt like hours).

"Trust starts with truth and ends with truth."

– Santosh Kalwar, Nepalese author and academic

After a few beats, my wits returned. I managed to get myself, and my dog, under control. By some miracle, I also managed to shout the other dog into backing away from us. Maybe it wasn't a miracle as much as my choice of a not-normally-used, uncouth F-verb!

A Lesson in Trust

There's a twist to this story though, a twist that started 18 months ago. I was out walking one day (without a dog) when I encountered "Ms. Neighbor" from three doors down in the street. She was trying to walk her young "power breed" pups – and it was clear that she was struggling.

I introduced myself and asked about the doggies. She was, by her own admission, inexperienced with dogs, let alone power breeds. Having owned power breeds off and on for 30 years, I saw trouble on the horizon and immediately offered to help her with basic house and obedience training. Just as a gesture from one neighbor to another.

I also emphasized the importance of playing with the dogs, keeping them stimulated, and eventually going to a professional trainer once they're bigger. She thanked me for the advice and my offer of help – and then completely ignored it.

When I encountered her again one day, she complained about how naughty the dogs were and that she couldn't control them. Her dogs were by then about 10 months old and, once again, I urged her to enlist the help of a professional trainer.

Recently she posted photos of the male on social media. It's now more or less 18 months old, and a big, muscular, untrained dog that sleeps outside and shows signs of frustration. It's also, by the owner's admission, aggressive.

Intent and Context

Here's the thing: if I didn't know the owner and how inexperienced she is regarding responsible dog ownership (and specifically power breed ownership), it would have been easy to "cancel" her out of my life.

What does all of this have to do with trust? Two things: intent and context. Knowing her as I do, I know that she has no ill intent. I also know that she didn't realize how quickly the situation could get out of control.

Also, it's always helpful to look at the full context of a situation, because nothing ever happens in isolation. She's still recovering from a very tough run-in with COVID-19 that landed her in hospital for three weeks. In my opinion, it would be unfair to disregard what happened to her over the past few weeks.

Do I trust that she's going to do the right thing now? I'm not sure. With the right guidance from someone who cares, she will. But my trust has been shaken.

Trust Breakers

Over the years, I've often written about trust: trust makers and trust breakers.

There are many behaviors that can break trust. For one, people who speak without thinking (or actively lie) often break trust; their tongues are wrecking balls.

Also, playing favorites destroys trust on all levels. The boss can't trust the favorites, because they're trying to do whatever they can to remain the favorites. The favorites don't trust the boss, because they know exactly how the boss treats those who aren't their favorites. All the others don't trust the boss either because the boss isn't fair to those they don't favor. Sounds like a good recipe for a toxic workplace.

"I apologize but…" is a sure trust breaker. It's a "sorry, not sorry" type of thing because the "but" is usually followed by a blame-shifting or justifying statement. It's me, sure – but really it's you.

Then there are the obvious trust breakers like lying, gossiping, being unreliable, invalidating others' feelings, being disrespectful, and making fun of or being condescending about someone.

Trust Makers

On the other side, there are those who show a sincere interest in people and put in the time and effort to get to know others. They're the trust makers.

"Truth seeking" and "truth speaking" are trust-making activities. Someone truth seeking shows the intent of wanting to be fair, not playing favorites, and not having ulterior motives. Truth speaking is putting those intents into action.

Consistency builds trust. If you know what to expect from a service provider, colleague or boss, it's easier to trust them. If you're never sure what you're going to get, it will negatively influence all your interactions with them.

In business and personal relationships, it's important to remember that people don't really listen to what you say – they watch what you do. Based on what they see, they decide whether you're trustworthy or not.

Trust Breakers Vs. Trust Makers

In our latest #MTtalk Twitter chat, we discussed trust-breaking and trust-making behaviors. Here are the questions we asked and some of your most insightful responses:

Q1. Why is trust such an important construct – even at work?

@JKatzaman Trust denotes dependability, which is crucial if the team wants to get any work done.

@Dwyka_Consult Trust means I know you have my back and you won't stab me in the back. It's peace of mind.

Q2. What breaks down trust in a relationship?

@emapirciu Not telling the truth or owning your mistakes breaks down trust in a relationship.

@MicheleDD_MT Withholding information. Either not sharing documents from meetings, not answering your question or not providing what you ask for. OMG. Happens too often with ambitious types.

Q3. How do you feel when trust is broken?

@pavelStepanov77 It is really heartbreaking and hurts more if it is done by your most trusted person.

@Midgie_MT On a personal level, I feel let down and disappointed. On a professional level, I am wary of them in the future.

Q4. Why do we want others to be trustworthy, while we accept our own trust-breaking behavior?

@Yolande_MT We judge ourselves on our intent and others on their actions.

@SarahH_MT That's a deep question! Perhaps it's because we know our own intentions and so find it easier to forgive ourselves rather than others?

Q5. Can broken trust ever be fully repaired, yes or no? Why?

@AnshuGupta15 Trust broken can't be repaired because there is always a thin layer of doubt which never converts into an unbreakable trust wall.

@NWarind It's hard, it's time consuming, but sincerity has its rewards.

@CaptRajeshwar Old saying: you can join broken rope, but the knot remains.

Q6. In your opinion, which trust breakers at work are deal breakers that will cause you not to trust a person again?

@harrisonia At work, CHEATERS, LIARS, AND THIEVES are the trust breaking deal-breakers that will cause you not to trust a person again.

@SizweMoyo Taking credit for my work is one that makes me think someone is a snake that will always look for the perfect opportunity to strike (and steal) again.

Q7. How do you move forward with a boss/colleague who broke your trust?

@DrKashmirM You can stop someone from pushing your buttons but stay aware of your feelings. Look at your reactions, take a step back and ask yourself what the rational way to respond is. This is a time when practicing mindfulness helps.

@ColfaxInsurance A lot of times you have to set new boundaries and communicate them clearly. Make the consequences of future broken trust known.

Q8. What builds trust in a team?

@lg217 Doing team-related activities is always a great place to start.

@CaptRajeshwar Common visible goals. Clear vision. Empowered to take risk. Failure accepted. Someone watch back. Win for all. Leader makes mistakes. Ownership of process. No hidden agenda.

Q9. How would you build trust with a new employee?

@MindfulLifeWork Modeling authentic vulnerability and humanness to create psychological safety.

@MikeBarzacchini Getting them involved with various members of the team and organization in a natural, seamless way so they can experience from a lot of people and situations that trust is a practiced value. Not just something in an HR manual.

Q10. Which trust-maker approaches will you use to build/repair trust within your organization?

@MarkC_Avgi Consistency is key. Matching words to actions. Setting the example you want others to follow. Holding yourself accountable, honestly & publicly. Treating people with courtesy & respect. Having the same bar for expectations & actions for everyone, including yourself.

@SustainedLeader Practice appropriate ways to say "Thank You" & "I'm Sorry." The two sides of this coin encourage people to take responsibility, acknowledge the progress of others, and heal past wounds. Avoid blame and recriminations, capitalize on lessons learned, & encourage others.

To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat here.

Coming Up

Sometimes it feels as if we live reactively. However, if you want to create the future you envisage for yourself, it's necessary to make proactive and intentional choices. Next time on #MTtalk, we're going to discuss the habit of being intentional. In our Twitter poll this week, we'd like to know in which area of your life you most need to develop the habit of being intentional.


In the meantime, if you want to explore the topic that we covered this week "Trust Breakers Vs. Trust Makers" check out the resources below. (Please note that some of these may only be available in full to members of the Mind Tools Club and to Mind Tools for Business licensees.)

Stop Playing the "Blame Game"

Developing Personal Accountability

Building Trust Inside Your Team

Rumors in the Workplace

Ethical Leadership

The Power of Trust: a Steel Cable

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