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March 7, 2019

What Does Trust Mean to You?

Faye Bradshaw

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Fake news, corporate data scrapes, phishing emails… They're all contributing to an epidemic of mistrust sweeping across the world. But is this lack of trust healthy?

Well, no. Whether it’s keeping your word, confiding in someone, working as a team, or delivering on time, trust is the glue that holds things together. But trust takes time to build, and it only grows when people feel that it's warranted.

Employers and employees, customers and suppliers, staff and customers, partners, friends, family – these relationships depend on trust. Without it, we’d all be wracked with insecurities and paranoia, stuck in workplaces rife with backstabbing and broken promises.

Trusting Too Little, and Too Much

Some people give their trust too readily, eager to think the best of others.

When I spoke to my partner, Leo, about this blog post, he told me about the only time he was ever fired – all because he trusted a boss he shouldn’t have.

When he was stocktaking in a restaurant for his boss, Rob, Leo discovered that some figures had been manipulated. Playing it off as an accident, Rob asked Leo to enter the same figures as the previous week, and told him that he would sort it out later. Leo trusted Rob, but the next day an unexpected audit saw Leo accused and dismissed. Clearly, trusting someone doesn't always pay off.

On the other hand, some people can place too little trust in others.

My roommate, Beth, works for an overbearing, self-sabotaging manager. She’s forever second-guessing Beth’s work, reminding her to do things she has already done, and checking, in front of the whole office, that Beth hasn’t made any “mistakes.” That’s a horrible environment in which to spend the working week. This type of unjustified distrust stifles creativity and passion, and it reduces productivity, too.

In its 2016 global CEO survey, PwC reported that 55 percent of CEOs think a lack of trust is a threat to their organization’s growth. Instead, managers could be fostering honest and respectful relationships, using Daniel Pink's AMP model of motivation, for example.

The Science Behind Trust and Betrayal

Recent scientific research on trust (and on the burden of keeping something to yourself) shows just how fundamental trust is to us humans.

In a Swiss study by neuroscientist Thomas Baumgartner, one test group was given the neurotransmitter oxytocin, while another was given a placebo. Both groups were then lied to. Our brains release oxytocin when we bond socially, and the subjects in the oxytocin group demonstrated increased levels of trust, even toward a person who had previously been dishonest with them.

Studies like this suggest that we’re hardwired to trust others, even if it means overriding logic and our gut instincts. (So maybe don’t beat yourself up too much for trusting that terrible ex!)

What’s more, other studies suggest that keeping a secret can be bad for our emotional health. Our brains are predisposed toward telling the truth, and concealing it can lead to anxiety, fear and higher levels of stress. Recent research from the University of Notre Dame on 110 participants also found that those who reported less deception showed fewer mental and physical health complaints (such as sore throats or headaches), and improvements in their personal relationships and social interactions.

Protecting Trust

Do you always do what you say you’re going to do? And do you always act in line with your values? You project your personal brand every day, and demonstrating trustworthiness is one of the best things you can do for your career.

We all know someone that we dread sharing a project with, and who will never give us a straight answer. I once worked with a girl called Rachel. I’d ask her to do something five times before just giving up and doing it myself. Rachel missed every opportunity to prove herself and her potential.

At work we are almost always part of a team, and we have other people’s reputations in our hands as well as our own. One manager I worked with never, ever delivered on time. I’d always hear, “Yeah, great, I’ll get that to you tomorrow!”

My heart would sink, knowing that it would never happen. I'd think about the email I would inevitably receive from the client, assuming that the delay was down to me. “It’s affecting my reputation and career, but it’s never my fault,” I lamented to a colleague, tears in my eyes.

If you're reliable and honest, regardless of the circumstances, you become a valuable resource to any company. It'll do wonders for your reputation, too.

When Trust Is Broken

Trust can take years to build, but just moments to come crashing down.

When trust is broken, we can close ourselves off, harbor anger, and lose empathy with the person responsible. In a personal setting, you might be able to cut your ties with them. But, at work, you might have to see, work with, and rely on that person every day.

And we can't close ourselves off from the world at large. The vast amount of information we share each day, and the way that we share it, has made fake news a threat to our mental health, to our sense of well-being, and to social cohesion. It makes us inherently distrustful, crushing our curiosity and affecting our desire to learn.

How to Foster Trust

Broken trust is very difficult to rebuild. But it's far easier in an honest, solutions-based work culture, than in one where people are afraid of taking the blame.

We all make mistakes sometimes, and it’s important to own up to them, no matter how much the truth hurts, or how difficult the conversation may be. It will show people that you’re responsible, accountable, and want to understand and improve. Be sure to demonstrate empathy and appreciation when someone else owns up, too.

It's also important to mend broken relationships. We all know what betrayal feels like, and how much it hurts. It’s natural to feel cautious if you’ve been burned before. But, just as we can learn to love again after a broken heart, so we can focus on honesty and openness, and on forging new and better working relationships – for our own good and everyone else’s.

Use Trust to Change Your Workplace Culture

Working together has always been the key to our success as a species. Trust offers everyone the chance to grow and prove themselves. Trusting each other, rather than wasting energy watching our backs, gives us the opportunity to be creative and productive.

Author Paul J. Zak notes in his book "Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies" that companies where trust is high benefit from 74 percent less stress, 106 percent more energy at work, 50 percent higher productivity, 76 percent more engagement, 29 percent more satisfaction, and 40 percent less burnout.

A lack of trust holds us back. Fostering trust helps to create an environment where communication is open and honest, and where problems are solved before harm is done. Trusting, and feeling trusted, creates a deeper connection and a shared sense of purpose. It brings out the best in all of us.

What does trust mean to you? Has someone broken your trust? What did you learn? And how do you approach your relationships now? Share your thoughts, below.

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