A lack of trust has reached epidemic proportions. In June 2012, less than one in four respondents told Gallup they had faith in big banks, big business and the media — record lows. The trust ratio is even worse for Congress. Additionally, a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission member recently cited data showing that nearly 80 percent of Americans do not trust the financial system. Given sobering statistics like these, it’s clear that the ability to build and sustain trust is a core competency for any leader today.
But trust is a notoriously complex issue. What is trust? How do we describe it? Does trust mean the same thing to you as it does to me? If not, how can we talk about it, let alone build it?
Noticing that organizations with high levels of trust were more successful than their counterparts, my Trust Works!: Four Keys to Building Lasting Relationships co-author Cindy Olmstead searched for the answers to those questions. After years of research, she discovered two significant facts.
First, trust means different things to different people. You can be completely unaware that your behavior is eroding the trust of those around you. What looks like fine behavior to you could be making your friend, spouse, boss, employee or constituent wary.
Second, trust grows when certain behaviors are present. But what behaviors? To find out, Olmstead set up flip charts in her office so that during discussions with clients, colleagues and friends she could document behaviors they thought would either build or erode trust. As the lists grew longer, she began to see patterns and realized the behaviors fell into predictable categories.
Just as a table can’t stand on one leg, trust is not built on one behavior. For example, the person who never tells a lie — but who also never gets to appointments on time — cannot be called trustworthy. From her research, Olmstead found that trusting relationships could flourish when people practiced a combination of four basic competencies: being able, believable, connected and dependable.
Trust begins with behaviors that show you are able. This element of trust is about demonstrating competence. Getting quality results, solving problems and having relevant skills enable you to actualize your good intentions, and that builds trust.
Trust is strengthened when your behaviors demonstrate that you are believable. This is about acting with integrity. It not only means being truthful, but also showing the capacity to keep confidences, admit mistakes and show respect for others.
Trust can flourish when your behaviors show you are connected. This element of trust has to do with caring about others. Listening well, showing interest in and working well with others and sharing about yourself are ways you can strengthen the bonds of trust.
Finally, trust requires that your behaviors prove you are dependable. This is about maintaining reliability. That means doing what you say you will do, being timely, organized and accountable, and following up consistently.
Now that you understand the four competencies of trust, go back and rate yourself on each from one to 10. Have others rate you. Then think about how you might build up your weak areas. For example, because I love people and have never really heard a bad idea, I used to say yes to more projects than I really had time for. While this made me score high in the connected area of trust — listening, showing interest and sharing with others — it made me less than dependable when it came to being timely and following up.
Trust is a delicate thing. It takes a long time to build, yet you can blow it with one poor decision. On the other hand, showing people they can rely on you can lead to benefits like greater autonomy, profitability and satisfaction. Your success in achieving the rewards of great relationships — at work, in the community, at home — will depend on your capacity to create trusting bonds.