Trust: It’s NOT About Falling Backwards…

In an earlier lifetime I worked with children as an after-school aide at an urban day-care center in Los Angeles. Needless to say, filling every afternoon’s three-hour window with activities both entertaining and educational was quite a task, a task that would have been impossible had we not managed to build the kids’ trust both in us and in each other.

So we fell into each other’s arms.

The exercise, commonly referred to as a “Trust Fall,” has become something of a joke in the arena of organizational training and development. However, the reason for it still holds: people need to build a fundamental trust in each other if a group, team, or organization is to have any chance at all of working to its fullest potential. Teammates must get comfortable being vulnerable with one another.

Building trust happens in a variety of ways, here we share four basic principles:

1) TRUST SHOULD NOT MEAN “LEAVE ME ALONE”

We often act as if truly trusting someone means you leave them alone to do what they need to do. Trust, in this context, equates to unsupervised. Organizational researchers Chris Argyris and Donald A Schön confirmed that this sense of “leave me alone” is part of the definition of trust in the workplace.

While we fundamentally agree that trust implies giving (and receiving) certain levels of autonomy, the “leaving alone” of others with whom you share a deep dependency is ultimately counter-productive. We need each other as customers and suppliers; only by not leaving each other alone can we know that we are working to the organization’s benefit.

2) TRUST IS RARELY UNIFORM

Trust can mean different things in different contexts. The way we trust our peers varies from the way we trust our subordinates, for example, and the trust we have for a silo (“I’m not sure about what they’re doing over in Marketing.”) varies strongly from the way we might trust an individual (“That new web designer really knows her stuff.”).

The customer—supplier relationship requires a unique form of trust, one that says each person will work with candor, regardless of role or position, in ways that ensure each person gets what they need.

3) TRUST AND CREDIBILITY GO HAND IN HAND

It’s hard to imagine a situation in which you would find someone highly believable yet at the same time highly untrustworthy.

The need for credibility as a component of trust suggests that, as a foundational element underlying our customer—supplier relationships, we want (and need) to know that those on whom we rely are up to the task with respect to their skills and knowledge—and they need to know that the same is true of us.

4) TRUST COMES AND GOES, SOMETIMES LIKE LIGHTNING

Perhaps the definitive (or at least most widespread) comments on trust come from Stephen M. R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust. “Trust impacts us 24/7,” he writes, “365 days a year.”

The key point Covey makes is in the title. Trust, it’s true, moves at speed. But it is wrong to assume that the speeds are constant. It takes time to build trust—the building process moves at a slow speed, sometimes inordinately so. But the speed of trust can also be much, much faster when we’re talking about the other direction—the direction of loss. Losing trust can happen as quickly as lightning splinters a towering pine during a summer thunderstorm.

In whatever ways your organization chooses to build trust among and across your employees and teams, we also urge you to keep in mind the particular kind of trust required for Mutual Relationship Mapping.

Mutual Relationship Mapping requires a sense of trust that is based on individuals supplying what others need in a timely manner. It does not require an overriding trust in all of the various intentions, beliefs, values, or credos of others (as some other definitions of trust would argue). It is, quite simply and directly, a trust in the accountability of others to maintain and honor their commitments.

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