The complexities of building trust

K.Park/ October 24, 2021/ 5 comments

Question

What are the most effective strategies for building trust?

Introduction

One thing I quickly learned when I worked as a systems analyst, solving technical issues, is that a relationship and trust are crucial to being seen as a partner who’s invested in the issue at hand.  Regardless of if the person is a colleague, or someone on the opposite side of the counter, the relationship and trust can impact my perceived competency, whether someone feels like I care about them, the direction of the relationship, whether we both can grow and learn, to the success of a partnership.  In my post this week I want to focus on building trust and what strategies are needed to build trust, because while trust and a relationship are necessary, I don’t think you can get beyond the surface level niceties in a relationship without trust.

Defining Trust

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the essential meaning of trust as a verb “is “to believe that someone is good and honest and will not harm you, or that something is safe and reliable.”  As a noun it is “the belief that you can trust someone or something.” Some of the examples used are: being in a position of trust, a relationship based on trust and understanding, trust me – I know about these things, that person isn’t to be trusted, I can’t employ them unless I can trust them and so on. 

What I can see from these examples is that trust is complex.  It’s something that may need to be earned, it can be diminished and possibly lost.  It’s also given in a variety of ways, perhaps based on a position of authority or from the amount of knowledge someone has.  It can also be given based on behavior good or bad.  I think as coaches then it’s important to be aware of these complexities and develop appropriate strategies that continue to build trust and work to avoid behaviors, attitudes that diminish the level of trust given by those we work with.

Watch this 4 minute video from Jim Knight discussing the importance of trust.

Trust Generators

Since trust can be earned or lost in a variety of ways, I thought it would help if I made a table to organize the various strategies I found.

Relationship Building Generators[1]Mindset/Attitude Trust [2]GeneratorsBehavioral Trust Generators[3]
Selective Vulnerability: People respect and connect with others who share their own vulnerable moments.Trust Others: To be trusted, we must also trust others generously.Be patient and flexible: be considerate of other individual’s situations and circumstances as it relates to the work being done, but also building trust together. 
Familiarity: People develop a sense of familiarity with someone who they see often in a particular setting…Own your role: Regardless of what happened, own your role in the outcome, mistakes too.Be reliable: Follow through on your words, be a good communicator, be honest with your colleagues.
Similarity of Interests: people create a bond with others who share similar likes, dislikes, hobbies, and so forth.Own your intentions: do you operate from good intentions or manipulative self-interests? Be consistent: This could overlap with being reliable, but this is more about recurring behaviors such as being on time to meetings
Concern: People connect when another shows concern for those issues and events important to another…Avoid being judgmental: this is as much about being respectful as it is about being judgmental.  Assume positive intent and trust that individuals are making the best decisions based on their current state and needs.Be open & available: Be transparent, make time to spend with others, not just when working, like an “open door” practice or sharing your schedule with others and encouraging people to stop by at any time.
Competence: People tend to trust others who demonstrate they have the skill and knowledge, as well as the will, to help and support them.Value your colleagues: Along with being respectful, value their input and experiences and make sure their voice is being heard too.Listen & Respect Privacy: listen, not just to the words being spoken, but the body language and what’s not being shared.  Maintain privacy and keep the confidence of those who choose to open and share with you. 
Table of trust generators.

One foundational believe I have is that love is at the root of all these trust generators.  As the Apostle Paul wrote:

If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NIV

Without love, and I’m referring to Christian Love (see the rest of 1 Corinthians 13:4-13) I don’t think I could get beyond the surface level niceties to a point where deeper levels of trust are developed and personal relationship made with those I work with.

Rebuilding Trust

Trust can be broken for a variety of reasons. In the workplace, small decisions each day can impact trust – it’s not always clear in the real world and building trust also depends on the person on the opposite side of the counter/table. As a Christian I believe in reconciliation and redemption…that there are second and third chances and that I’m not going to get it right every time I work with others. Sometimes the situation or environment causes things to not work out. Sometimes, it’s my own actions or the actions by another. Whenever I’m at fault or think I’m at fault, I ruminate for days on end, on what I did, why I did it and how I could’ve done better. Sometimes, I’m given the opportunity to put what I’ve been thinking about into action, and sometimes I’m not.

One of the things I think that is the most important step in rebuilding trust, is acknowledging when I was wrong and apologizing. It’s great if I can do it face to face, but maybe that person doesn’t want to see or work with me right away, In that case, I write an email as best as I can, to convey how much I care about the them and what happened. I also identify things I will do as a result of what happened, so I can work to prevent that problem from happening in the future. Sometimes I see immediate results, but other times it takes time, so at that point it’s on me and my own mindset to continue to show love and care as best as I can so I can turn that relationship around and build it up again.

Conclusion

As you can see, building trust isn’t just about making sure I behave in a trustworthy manner, it’s also about the attitudes and mindset I have towards others and the ways I build and rebuild trust through my relationships.  For me, trust starts with my love for the person I’m working with and then builds on that foundation via the strategies listed above and I think this is where it starts when trust has been bent or broken between colleagues.

I’m sure there are more generators than what I’ve listed here.  These are some of the main ways I see myself working to build trust, that have been effective for me.  If you have some that work well for you, please share them in the comments section.

References

Brewster, C., and Railsback J., 2003. Northwest regional educational laboratory. Building trusting relationships for school improvement: Implications for principals and teachers. https://educationnorthwest.org/sites/default/files/trust.pdf

Civico, A. Ph.D. 2014. Psychology Today. 5 Strategies to build trust and increase confidence. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/turning-point/201404/5-strategies-build-trust-and-increase-confidence

Dowd, H. 2019. EdTech team professional learning. How to build trust with teachers: 5 easy steps for instructional coaches. https://www.edtechteam.com/blog/2019/12/how-to-build-trust-with-teachers-5-easy-steps-for-instructional-coaches/

Druvenga, K. 2017. Instructional coaches’ corner. 3 ways to build trust an instructional coach. https://www.instructionalcoaches.com/3-ways-build-trust-instructional-coach/

Hammond, Z. 2015. Culturally responsive teaching & the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. pp. 77-86

Holy Bible. New International Version. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians%2013&version=NIV

Indeed Editorial Team. 2021. Career development. 14 ways to build trust in the workplace. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/building-trust

Russell, N., 2012. Psychology Today. Restoring trust at work. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/trust-the-new-workplace-currency/201204/restoring-trust-work

Trust. 2021. In Cambridge English Dictionary. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/trust


[1] All of the relationship building generators above are from figure 5.2 in Zaretta Hammond’s book, Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain on page 79. 

[2] Items listed are pulled from Indeed, Civico, A., Russell, N., Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, Druvenga, K., and Dowd, H.

[3] Items listed are pulled from Indeed, Civico, A., Russell, N., Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, Druvenga, K., and Dowd, H.

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5 Comments

  1. The Trust Generators is a clear expression and analysis of what elements are included in a trust, and it does help how to build trust. It would be more ideal if there were more examples. I also very much agree with what you shared, it is easy to undermine trust in some environments and different situations. But the most important thing may not be how to avoid the relationship being broken, but how to actually receive the letter. I remember once heard a missionary share that if there is a pair of friends who offends the other, as long as one of them is willing to forgive or admit their mistakes and sincerely apologize, in most cases, the fundamental relationship and trust are not too easy to break. The problem is that people are too stingy to apologize

    1. Thanks, Jason. I would love to hear some of your trust generators too sometime. I also like the story you shared about the missionary talking about two friends. While I think it’s important to not offend someone, I think it’s not possible to do that every time we work with someone, so it’s important for all of us to know how to navigate those instances. I can be responsible for my own actions, but I can’t always change people’s hearts or minds, so sometimes I have to leave that up to God and do my best to make myself as open, caring, and approachable as possible afterwards.

  2. Thanks for helping us see the broader environment for trust. And for sharing some great resources for building and maintaining trust. Really appreciated you sharing strategies you have used to rebuild trust in cases where it has been threatened.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts, Karen! I particularly appreciated the table you provided as it helped me see the lateral connections between relationship building, the mindset required, and actions related to these goals. The willingness to “get it wrong” sometimes seems so simple, but can be very difficult to practice, especially in professional environments where you might be in some kind of leadership role. Thanks for drawing attention to the importance of mutual vulnerability as a pathway towards building trust.

    1. Oh man, being vulnerable when you have a title is so difficult, because of all the pressure and assumptions that come with holding a title. Sometimes it can place people on pedal stools and then when something doesn’t go right, they fall hard and fast. I think leaders have a much grayer area when it comes to being competent, vulnerable, and successful – particularly in the work place where results (focus on efficiencies and effectiveness) are more important than the personal relationships.

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