Who should you trust at work?

KarenBusiness success, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership

I recently led a workshop for a group of very talented entrepreneurs (thank you Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship). Their requested topic was “teams” – how to hire, how to manage, how to handle issues. They had a number of specific questions but one theme ran through most of them.

Why is it so hard to trust other people?

There are several types of trust, or at least bases upon which trust can be built. Professional or technical expertise is one. Previous experience is one. Character is one. We all make decisions every day about who we trust and who we don’t. Some people offer trust immediately and have a hard time rebuilding it if it’s broken. Others take time to trust, but once they get there it’s pretty solid.

In the context of leading a team the trust question most frequently comes up related to delegation. Often when a manager has been promoted from a technical or subject matter domain they have a hard time assigning work without doing a lot of telling and micromanaging. Giving more junior or newer people the chance to fail, to try something their way, to do something imperfectly – that’s often really difficult. But it boils down to trust – if you trust that you’ve hired the right people and that they have the right skills and that they are responsible with regard to deadlines – what’s not to trust?

In the context of being a member of a team, the question arises related to co-workers and their delivery of work that other people need in order to move their own efforts forward. How can you be sure that you and your co-worker have aligned goals? Shared information? Similar priorities?

And it really comes up related to what to share with a colleague. Again, every individual is coming to their decision based on their own experience and values – and every experience informs the next one. So if you share a confidence with a colleague only to find it has been divulged elsewhere – do you share again? Or permanently dissociate? How do you get work done if you have lost trust?

I think using what we learn from experience is important when it comes to trust – until it gets in the way of achieving something bigger than we alone can accomplish. I am a person who trusts early and readily, and who believes most people truly have good intentions. As a result I’ve been thrown under the bus a couple of nasty times. Does it jade me? I hope not. But what it does do is inform my future choices. And when I need to collaborate with someone who has breached trust in the past, I approach with caution, and with good boundaries – but I really try hard not to hold a grudge.

I don’t think we need to judge other people for their trust choices. I think we need to function in a way that we can live with for ourselves, and when we bump up against others who operate differently sure we might get a bit bruised – but that doesn’t mean we need to permanently grow a hard shell.

A colleague offered this, which I think is useful: “People are good, caring and trustworthy far more than they’re not. Any caution is directed toward only the person who mistreated the relationship.”

How would our trust behaviours and choices at work – and everywhere, really – change if we considered how we are treating the relationship?

Trust is the foundation upon which we get everything – or at least everything that’s meaningful – done. Your basis for trust, and the role it plays in your own success, is worth some reflection.