The recently released 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer suggests that trust is in crisis around the world. Trust has broadly declined and specifically in the four institutions that many of us count on to tell us the truth: government, business, NGOs, and media. This has not happened since Edelman began tracking trust against these four categories in 2012. While you will never see a financial statement with a line item titled distrust, it is well documented how expensive — in financial and human terms — broken trust can be.
If trust is a measure of the quality of the relationship between two people, between groups of people, and between people and an organization, the key question is: what can you do to give your people reasons to trust when the indices are going in the opposite direction?
- Go-First—Be the first to make an investment in the relationship. Trust can be an issue not because each of us isn’t trustworthy, but because we can be self-centered. Combat this impression by genuinely demonstrating greater concern for the needs and interests of your people ahead of your own. Research continues to show that most people don’t believe their leaders have their best interests at heart. Ask the simple question: do I know what my people’s “best interests” are from their perspective?
- Listen to everything. Check your understanding of what you hear by paraphrasing it back to your people. When you replay, exactly, you know you heard both the content and the emotion correctly.
- Probe for greater insights with questions. Hold your opinions and ask three questions instead: A) What would success look like to you? You can replace the word “success” with any topic like fair, balanced, fast, etc. B) Gee, what’s behind that? Making the why as transparent as the what is the hallmark of great two-way communication. C) And then what happened? People are always looking for permission to say more and go further, give it to them regularly.
- Predictability and consistency are key. Describe the values and beliefs that drive your behavior so others can see consistency rather than randomness. A leader whose behavior is reliably predicted will be more trustworthy. Erratic, inconsistent and unpredictable behavior will be received with suspicion and foster distrust.
- Look for opportunities to switch relationships. Rather that always putting yourself in the position of a teacher and your people in the position of students, switch the relationship. Look for authentic opportunities for your people to teach you.
- Practice framing the issues together. An accurate and mutually agreed upon problem or opportunity statement is a key ingredient to high quality trusting relationships. Work to simplify, crystalize, and encapsulate the issues into problem statements that provide both insights and fresh ways of thinking about the challenges. How many times have you heard something like: “we are not even talking about the same thing” or “we aren’t aligned on what we are solving for.” Both rational and emotional framing help distill complex issues down to critical variables, and huge people the courage to take personal risks and bring hidden emotions out.