Editor’s Note: Grace Ueng is the founder of Savvy Growth, a noted leadership coaching and management consulting firm, and an expert on wellbeing and performance science. Grace writes a regular column on happiness & leadership for WRAL TechWire.

Changing Trust Levels

Communities where neighbors trust one another are safer and more cohesive. I remember when growing up, we would always answer the door when someone knocked.  Things have changed in how neighbors interact. Technology makes it less necessary to knock on a neighbor’s door when texting is more efficient.

People trust each other less today than four decades ago. We don’t tend to rely on people with whom we haven’t yet built trust, and we are less likely to ask them for help. This could be based on lack of precedence or simply not having enough shared life experiences. When people do not yet know that they can count on those around them, the societal fabric of trust is weaker.

Benefit of the doubt and the fabric of trust

In the workplace, lack of built trust or broken trust between colleagues leads to higher levels of stress and reduced productivity. People who work at high-trust companies experience 74% less stress. Millennials are 22x more likely to work for a company with a high trust culture.

Last year I had the opportunity to visit the headquarters of Fiskars Group in Finland and meet Anna Mindelöf, their chief people officer. Her number one people philosophy is trusting people before you know they can be trusted. People come with good intent. She is always trying to trust people, until they have proven otherwise.

Years ago, I coached the leadership team of an organization where many did not trust their CEO and were therefore not open in sharing with him. That CEO once told me in a manner intended as constructive feedback, “you always give people the benefit of the doubt” and explained that was different from his way of viewing his team. He came from the school of thought that they needed to prove themselves to earn his respect and trust. Instead, they often lived in fear of him.

Recently, a client told me that the “fabric of trust” with her key colleague had been broken, causing her to want to leave the company.  We spent our time together that day working through her thoughts on how this “rip” could be repaired.

Just like a breach of trust is one of the top reasons for divorce, the same is true for co-founder break-ups, colleagues quitting their jobs, or removal of a leader.

Trust defined

Let’s step back and look at the dictionary definition of trust:

●     n. firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

●     v. to believe that someone/something  is good/reliable/safe and honest and will not harm you.

Trust in a product or brand

For a brand, Forrester analyst Suhendu Pattnaik, said, “Trust is brand oxygen. It is indispensable.” In 1982, Johnson & Johnson invented a new business process when seven people died in greater Chicago after taking cyanide-laced capsules.  They took back 31 million bottles and offered free replacement in the safer tablet form; this process is now known as a recall.

In just two months, J&J headed back to market in a new tamper-proof package bolstered by an extensive media campaign. Chairman James Burke exhibited best practices in what could have been a financial disaster after this breach of trust in safety. He openly communicated, pulled the products of potential concern off the shelves, and delivered in a very timely manner  a safe replacement. And surprisingly to many, recaptured their dominant market share by quickly rebuilding consumer trust.

Trust in a person

How can you develop trust amongst your colleagues so that they have each other’s backs?  How can your company’s fabric of trust go from threadbare to bulletproof?

First, recognize there are two big buckets for trust:

Earned.  You’re reliable and competent. You show up on time, produce good work and results.
Emotional. You create meaningful bonds with your team. You go beyond what is expected. You have a high level of emotional intelligence. If you’ve had a best friend@work, there’s a lot of emotional trust between you.

Much of the first bucket is table stakes.  The second bucket is less obvious and takes more time and smarts to build.

Steps to building trust in your company:

Self trust.  You must trust yourself first. This is similar to self efficacy, the foundation of self confidence. Belief in your own ability to handle whatever arises while practicing kindness toward yourself rather than seeking perfection and allowing your inner critic to dominate (Happiness & human performance: Winning the inner game). Ask yourself “how am I doing?” rather than dismissing an emotional disturbance.

Be trustworthy. Earn trust by continuing to learn and produce.

Trust first. Be like Anna Mindelöf of Fiskars Group and choose to trust people before they have even earned it. This builds emotional trust.

Avoid self promotion.  It’s about them, not you.

Respect. So simple yet so often missing in meetings, communications, both written and verbal. Treat people well, like you would like to be treated.

Reciprocity in vulnerability and honesty.  Admit mistakes and address issues.  Choose not to hide.  This vulnerability needs to be on both sides for partners to build trust. If one person shares, but the other only listens, there is opportunity to strengthen the fabric of trust.

While the fabric of trust takes time to weave, it can also be torn quickly.  Being a good listener and thinking before speaking helps.

A couple of random thoughts

Banish “just trust me” from your vocabulary.  Actions speak louder than words.

Seeming to be as interested or more interested in checking your emails or reading your phone while a colleague is trying to express themselves to you is a sure fire way to not build trust.  Put away your phone and shut down your inbox during meetings.

This week’s exercise

Think of your closest friend.  What are three things they have done over the years that have earned your trust?  How can you apply these to your colleagues?

About Grace Ueng

Grace is CEO of Savvy Growth, a management and marketing consultancy that since 2003 has been helping leaders and the companies they run achieve their fullest potential through conducting strategic reviews, marketing audits, and coaching.

A marketing strategist, Grace held leadership roles in marketing, business development and product management at five high growth technology ventures that successfully exited through acquisition or IPO. A TED speaker, her work has been covered in The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Beast, and Inc.

Contact her firm for more information on Grace’s flagship workshop, HappinessWorks™.

Subscribe for free to her Happiness & Leadership@Work.  You will receive one research based lesson each week to learn to be a happier and more productive leader: click here