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Reviews |  A practical guide to building trust


Distrust is a cancer that plagues our society. It amplifies enmity, stifles cooperation, and fuels conspiratorial thinking. So the question is: how do you create trust?

Within organizations, trust is typically established by leaders who create environments that encourage people to behave with integrity, competence, and caring.

It’s not just about character, but having the right practical skills – knowing what to do in complex situations to make people feel respected and safe. Here are some practices that leaders have used in their businesses and organizations to build trust:

Assume excellence. The more you monitor the behavior of your employees, the more they will feel suspicious and the more suspicious they will become. Leaders who trust their employees can tell them what to do, but they let them manage their own schedules and fulfill their responsibilities in their own way. In the 1980s, Hewlett-Packard allowed engineers to bring the equipment home without a lot of formal paperwork because they were confident they would bring the equipment back.

Be more human. Many of us, over 45, were brought up to separate personal and professional life. This distinction is less recognized by younger generations who want to devote themselves entirely to work and be open about emotions, mental health issues and other personal issues. A few years ago, interns from a team I was leading told me they felt like I didn’t really know them and wanted to spend an afternoon sharing their childhood photos. . At first I thought it was ridiculous, but we did it, and it was the right thing to do. We have established new levels of vulnerability and emotional connection. Northwestern’s Janice Nadler has found that negotiators who only spend five minutes discussing unprofessional things before a negotiation feel more cooperative, share more information, and develop greater mutual trust in subsequent communications.

No behind-the-scenes convictions. Many schools, businesses and organizations have become mistrust snake pits because leaders allowed some community members to convict others online, without ever sitting in a room with the accused and talking about it. . Once this behavior becomes acceptable, the toughest people in the organization take over and everyone curls up.

Discourage cliques. A team that has split into different subcultures is doomed to become a team in which distrust thrives. Mix people up so they don’t get split into cliques.

Don’t overestimate transparency. There is a common perception that people will trust you if you make your organization’s operations more visible to outsiders. This is largely untrue. Confidence in government was plummeting in 1976 when the federal government passed the Sunshine Act to increase transparency; it continued to decline thereafter. A 2011 study suggests that if ordinary citizens receive more information about how a public health system allocates its resources, their overall confidence in the health system is weakened, compared to those who receive no information about the health system. decision making process. .

Maximum possible vulnerability. Setbacks are, paradoxically, opportunities to build confidence, as long as you admit your mistakes and clearly know what you have learned and what you are doing to change. A period of prosperity can undermine confidence if leaders smooth out and promote themselves. This kind of behavior seems selfish – and therefore destructive of trust.

Admit social ignorance. About 95 percent of MBA students in Roderick Kramer’s negotiation courses say they are above average in their ability to assess the honesty, trustworthiness and trustworthiness of others. The point is, as research by William Ickes at the University of Texas at Arlington has shown, we’re not always so good at figuring out what’s going on in other people’s minds. People who feel frowned upon and unheard of will not trust you. The only solution is to constantly ask people what they are thinking and what dilemmas they are facing. Often, we send social signals that are too subtle to be received. Be explicit.

Empower. In an age of high mistrust, power hierarchies are generally suspect. Leaders gain confidence by spreading authority through the ranks. In his book “The Power of Giving Away Power”, Matthew Barzun contrasts pyramidal hierarchical structures with constellation structures in which power is dispersed. Pyramid structures encourage a competitive win-lose mindset, he writes, while constellation structures encourage cooperation.

Respond to mistrust with confidence. People who have learned to be suspicious will resist your friendship because they assume that you will eventually betray them. If you keep coming forward for them after they’ve rejected you, it will ultimately change their life.

It is more difficult to build trust in diverse societies. Over the past decade, we have learned that our social skills are inadequate for the type of complex society we live in. Thus, the decline in interpersonal trust has become one of the biggest threats to America’s future. Restoring trust is not a matter of good intentions; it is about concrete behaviors.



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