Trust is like a bank account. You start a new relationship with a certain amount of trust, and then over time you add to that account to build a solid foundation.
And like a bank account, it can be emptied overnight if you’re not careful about your investment.
Why does it matter? Trust is the foundation of all relationships. Barriers come down, more gets accomplished, it’s more fun. People follow leaders by choice. If people don’t trust you, at best you’ll get compliance.
As important as trust is and as much as we talk about it, the problem is we are not always talking about the same thing. Trust is an all encompassing word that can mean many different things.
What exactly do you mean when you say you don’t trust someone? Do you mean you don’t think they are honest? Or do you mean you don’t trust they have your best interest in mind? Or do you mean you don’t think they can do the job? These are all different dimensions of trust.
How trustworthy are you? If you fall down in any of these four dimensions, you risk depleting your hard-earned trust. Understanding the dimensions of trust will help you know how to build and maintain your trust bank account.
The Dimensions of Trust
1. Integrity: Are you honest and ethical?
Honesty is the most important dimension of trust. Liars are not trusted. Bottom line. In fact, without integrity, the other dimensions of trust don’t matter.
If you are in a leadership role, are you a straight shooter? Can people count on you to tell them the truth? Do you live by the values you state?
2. Competence: Do you know what you’re doing?
If someone hires you to do a job, they want to be assured you know what you’re doing and are capable of doing the job well.
If you are in a leadership role, do you understand the role of leadership and are you capable of leading your team toward success?
3. Reliability: Can you be counted on to follow through on your commitments?
Will you be there when you are needed? If you agree to do something, are you dependable? Can you be counted on to complete things on time?
If you are in a leadership role, can people depend on you? Will you show up when you are supposed to? Will you provide the support, direction, and resources that are needed?
4. Concern: Are you genuinely concerned for the well-being of others?
When we believe someone genuinely cares about our well-being, we are willing to open our hearts and become vulnerable. This is the deepest level of trust and is not to be taken lightly.
If you are in a leadership role, do you have people’s best interest in mind? Do you see them as individuals, and do you really care about their well-being?
Be specific when you talk about trust.
“What’s the matter. Don’t you trust me?” my teenage son asked when he wanted to go on a mountain climbing trip with a friend.
Yes, I trusted his integrity and his good intentions, but because of his lack of experience, I did not trust his judgment.
Answering a blanket “Yes, I trust you” or “No, I don’t trust you” is a set up for misunderstanding and creates a no-win situation.
Instead of saying someone is trustworthy or is not trustworthy, it is much more helpful to be specific about what you trust and what you don’t. If trust is an issue, describe the dimension of trust that is the issue, and you’ll have a much more productive conversation.
Three Excellent Resources for Building Trust
For over 25 years, Reina, A Trust Building® Consultancy has done pioneering work in this area. They describe The 3 C’s of Trust. The popular book Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace: Building Effective Relationships in Your Organization by Dennis Reina and Michelle Reina is in it’s 3rd edition.
The TrustWorks Model is currently available through The Ken Blanchard Companies. It is described in Trust Works!: Four Keys to Building Lasting Relationships by Ken Blanchard and Cynthia Olmstead
Trust Inc.: 52 Weeks of Activities and Inspirations for Building Workplace Trust edited by Barbara Brooks Kimmel.
Being specific when talking about what your do/don’t trust is a great reminder and also a good relationship builder. I’ll be sure to share that when talking with others about trust. Thank you for adding your wisdom to the current field of trust.
Thanks, Fay. Looking at trust from these 4 dimensions provides a language for that conversation.
I agree with Fay’s comment. Trust is one of those big words that can get thrown around in an argument in a way that hurts both sides. The specifics are what matters.
Indeed. Often the only time we talk about trust is after it has been broken. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could talk about it before there’s a problem? It might help prevent them.
I love the way you explained what you said to your son about trusting his integrity but not his experience. You think and speak so clearly, Jesse. Having a 4-pronged approach to trust helps everyone figure just WHERE there might be lack of trust. It helps focus the conversation. Brilliant
It applies in many areas – not just parenting. It could be a helpful tool for people with different views on political candidates to have a discussion on where they trust a candidate to be a leader and where they don’t.
What a great upgrade: Looking at the four dimensions of trust and being consciously specific what dimension is not trustworthy!!! This itself will enable trust between individuals to be built / repaired: ‘I do trust you in these areas but let’s work on this area.’
I note you have a ‘If you are in a leadership role, …’ paragraph for each dimension. And of course, trust between leader and team members is important – both directions. But these also apply between any two people!!!
Great post as usual!!!
Anytime you try to influence someone or a group, you are attempting to provide leadership. When you succeed, you are in a leadership role. And then… what is your responsibility and how will you act on the trust you have been given? As you point out, this could be in a work setting or in a personal relationship between two people. Much thanks for deepening the conversation, John!
Thank you. Very easy to understand and apply. I’m curious about your thoughts on the book The Speed of Trust.
I like Covey’s work. I also have great respect for the work of Jack Gibb and the early OD practicioners at NTL in the 1970’s. Much of what is considered new today is based on their pioneering work.
In a professional setting, what would be the best approach to deal with the situation described in the teenage example? Could I say I don’t trust the ability to an employee to do a certain task without cause offense?
Good question. It would depend on whether you think the employee doesn’t have the skills to do the job… or whether you think the employee doesn’t have the ability to stay focused long enough… or doesn’t have enough experience. It would be best to keep the conversation to the behaviors needed to complete the task and to focus on whether to delegate the task or to provide some supervision. During the conversation, if the employee brings up the question of trust, then you could respond by being specific about what you do trust and what you don’t.
As a member of the military for over 15 years I find this article interesting and having a lot of truth for us. If there is not full trust then we fail in our jobs. Thanks for the article it was a great read.
So glad to hear that it rang true for you, Rex. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.