Earning Their Trust

Trust seems to be in short supply these days. And a lack of trust costs all of us . . . in terms of time, resources, and overall progress on our missions. The challenge for a leader is that you can’t “make” someone trust you. You have to earn it. Not only that, in our current environment, for a host of reasons, there is a tendency for people to assume ill-intent — to assume that leaders aren’t trustworthy until you “prove” them wrong. So how do you do that?

1. Stay off the ladder.

I have written before about ladders of inference. It is the tendency we all have to select specific data to focus on, to add meaning to the data we select, make assumptions based on the meaning we have added, draw conclusions based on that added meaning, which affects our beliefs, which influence our actions . . . all in the blink of an eye, often without us even being aware of it. Social media pushes us higher up the ladder by feeding us even more information to “support” the assumptions and beliefs we bring to the table. And you aren’t the only one climbing that ladder. The people you would hope trust your leadership have their own ladders too. How do you stop the climb? Curiosity. Ask others for their perspective. Listen to their response. Assumptions undermine trust and make progress harder. Stay off the ladder.

2. Tell them why.

One good way to keep people off the ladder in the first place is to tell them why you are taking certain actions. You don’t have to give them every last detail or share confidential information, but if you help them understand your intent they are much less likely to make assumptions about what is driving your actions. By sharing the thinking behind decisions, you are offering your trust to your people. And when you take the first step in the dance of trust, it is easier for others to follow suit. Not only that, but when your people know the reasons behind your decisions, they have the chance to offer insight that just might get you to your goal faster and more effectively.

3. Remember, it’s not about “them”.

A recent article in Inc. magazine suggested that the way to stop passive aggressive behavior and strengthen relationships is to attack the problem, not the person. Good advice indeed. When we start to see people as the problem (or they see you as such), then all of a person’s actions become suspect. What if, instead, you as the leader take the responsibility to identify the problem at hand. You may not appreciate the person’s behavior, but responding to that in the moment, rather than the actual issue, only results in the creation of another problem. When you model focusing on the problem rather than the person, you make it safe for others to do likewise, which creates a healthier, more trusting work environment for everyone.

Want to bring out the best in your people, and propel your mission forward? A good place to start is by earning their trust.

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