How Do You Create Trust?

I’ve been thinking about many of the problems I see in life, and in organizations. I see a lack of trust.

The managers don’t trust the people or the teams of people. The people don’t trust management. The technical teams don’t trust “the business.” (Yes, put those quotation marks there.) The marketing people, including Product Owners, don’t trust the teams.

It’s a mess.

In my personal life, I see trust issues, also. My condition requires me to see ENTs on a regular basis. I had a bad cough last summer that lasted for over 6 weeks. My primary care doc suggested I see my ENT. While I was there, he said he wanted to give me antibiotics.

I asked him, “What do you see that leads you to believe I need an antibiotic?”

He said, “It’s been six weeks of coughing. You must need an antibiotic.”

I flipped the bozo bit and decided that not only would I not take an antibiotic, I was done with him as an ENT. I do realize I am more of a patient than some docs can handle. And, we all know about the overprescription of antibiotics. I don’t want to take any if I don’t need to.

I didn’t take them and I got better slowly over a couple of weeks. I had a trip out to Oregon, and I think the difference in climate made a difference. I’m not sure. Maybe I was just done coughing. Anything is possible.

I don’t trust him. (This isn’t my first negative encounter with him. It’s at least the fourth.) I have a new ENT.

It’s almost easier with doctors than it is inside organizations. We can fire—or at worst—leave our doctors. Maybe not easily, but we can.

What happens if you don’t trust someone in your organization? Should you, could you work around that person? Should you, could you provide feedback? What if you’re many time zones away? How can you build trust? Is it worth it?

In my experience, it’s worth the time to try to build trust. Robert Solomon in Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life says that integrity and meeting commitments are two cornerstones of trust. (The others are consistency in your actions and reactions, being willing to discuss, and extending trust.)

When we work with integrity, people can trust us, even if they disagree. When we deliver what we promise to deliver, people can trust us. (If we deliver often enough, we can build feedback into the deliveries which helps our relationship even more.

My ENT didn’t work with integrity. If he had, he would have explained more of his thinking or discussed the problem with me more. He didn’t deliver the basics of  what I consider a reasonable medical practice: honest information. (I realize you might have different expectations of a doc.)

Here are some questions I have found useful when I think I’m dealing with someone untrustworthy:

  • What would have to be true for this person to behave in this way?
  • What do I see and hear?
  • What does the other person see and hear?
  • Is there a way for me to build a bridge, given this data? Do I need more data? Could I offer more data?

You might have other approaches to building trust. I hope you decide to offer a comment, if so.

We are human, and as humans, we need to create trust as the basis for our relationships. Especially the more distant we are—across the organization or across time zones.

That is the question this week: How do you create trust?

7 thoughts on “How Do You Create Trust?

  1. Tom

    Hi Johanna! An interesting question indeed. Generally, I believe that trust has to be extended at first, not somehow “earned”. So at the beginning of a relationship, I am advocating a “trustful” approach – meaning I tend to trust others unless they prove untrustworthy (sadly it seems this can be done in numerous ways). In your ENT example, that’d mean that you would trust your doctor first unless he gives you the reason to loose that trust (which in this case he did). Usually, when someone loses my trust, I try to figure out:
    1. why would the person behave in such a way (is there some explanation to that
    2. is there something I might have done / said (not done / not said) that may have led to this behavior?
    3. is there possibly some context missing?
    Only when I fail to understand the behavior, the trust gradually erodes.

    1. johanna Post author

      Hi Tom, I do like these questions with relationship to congruence: other, self, and context. Very nice.

      Yes, I think that when we lack understanding on either side, we erode trust with each other.

      1. johanna Post author

        In the US, it’s otolaryngology. They are the first line of defense for vestibular problems. The ear part.

        Since the eustachian tubes connect everything, they study the ears, nose, and throat. It’s actually quite interesting. Although, they, as with many neurologists, have very few people skills. My theory is that’s because they so often provide bad news and no medical hope. I have met a couple who are more human :-)

  2. Terry

    Hi Johanna –

    According to a couple of sources I checked, trust is defined as reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence; the belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.

    Then I thought about people I trust, and the behaviors they exhibit that led to that trust. They:

    – Tell me thoughtfully what they perceive to be the truth about my behavior or a situation, assuming positive intent, not just what they think I want to hear or what will advance another agenda.
    – Make their best effort to meet commitments they make, or if a problem develops, to notify me as soon as possible so we can collaborate on alternatives.
    – Behave consistently in ways that reflect and are aligned to their values. If those values have changed, being transparent about the growth that led to the change.
    – Respect confidentiality and to make any conflicts of interest or impropriety known early on in a discussion.

    So I hope that when people choose to trust me, I model these behaviors, thus reinforcing that trust.

    Thank you for making me more conscious of it!


    1. johanna Post author

      Terry, you are welcome.

      I like that thoughtful approach to feedback. I think that’s missing from my post. Solomon infers it, but I don’t remember if he specifically discusses feedback. I agree with you, it’s a big part of trust.

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