A Guest Post from Laurie Ribble Libove
Laurie Ribble Libove, MS is a specialist in strategic human resource management and organizational development. She is the author and co-author of several HRDQ training tools, including Leading Change at Every Level, Trust: The Ultimate Test, and The Comprehensive Leader.
With the improving job market, this fall finds many people in new positions, eager to establish themselves as trustworthy employees. Whether you’re a new college grad settling into your first “real” job or a seasoned professional who has recently landed a fresh opportunity, one of your first concerns as a new hire is to secure the trust of people with whom you’ll be working.
Of course, you know you’re trustworthy, but just exactly how do you prove that to your boss and co-workers, as well as customers and vendors? First, recognize that building trust is a process that, depending on the people involved and overall organizational influences, might take weeks, months, or well more than a year to achieve. So you’ll need to be patient with yourself and others. Like any long term investment, a significant amount of time could pass before you start realizing a return on your efforts. Persevere – mentally and emotionally prepare yourself to be in it for the long haul.
The next thing you need to do is put on your empathy hat. Challenge yourself to view the situation from the perspective of those you are trying to influence. What will each person need to know, think, and observe about you in order to trust? The exact list of conditions will vary from person to person, as will the necessary amount of evidence. Remember: it’s NOT about what you would need to trust another person, it’s about the other person’s standards and criteria.
This brings us to the concept of individual tendency to trust, which also varies from person to person. There are those who never trust, and there are those who always trust. In the middle are those who tend to trust, but need some time and positive evidence to make the leap. To get a better sense of this concept, think about your own tendency to trust and give it a rating on a scale from zero (meaning you never trust) to 10 (meaning you always trust).
Assessing your own tendency to trust is fairly intuitive, but how can you estimate another person’s tendency to trust? Watch for cues about their attitude toward risk taking. How cautious or deliberate are they? Listen closely to stories they share or questions they ask, as well as their choice of words in verbal or written communication. Consider how open they are – do they willingly volunteer information about themselves? What does their body language suggest? Do they primarily interact with a few trusted colleagues or a wide network?
Once you have estimated the other person’s tendency to trust, consider how their tendency compares with yours. If the two of you have a similar tendency to trust, then you are likely to have similar expectations of the trust building process. But if the two of you have substantially different tendencies to trust, then you are also likely to have very different expectations of what qualifies as a reasonable trust building process.
The degree to which you and the other person have different expectations of the trust building process can provide helpful insight into how relatively easy or challenging it will be to develop a trusting relationship. If you have a high tendency to trust and you encounter someone with a low tendency to trust, you may be surprised (and possibly frustrated) at how difficult it is to win the person’s trust. If you have a low tendency to trust and you encounter someone with a high tendency to trust, you may be insulted by or even suspicious of how easily they give you a “pass.”
But let’s be optimistic and assume that you and the other person both have a moderate tendency to trust. So you’ll expect the other person to weigh many factors in making a decision to trust, and you will expect the process of gathering sufficient information to take weeks or months. But there’s nothing to stop you from jumpstarting and facilitating that process by proactively providing evidence that will answer the two questions that are likely top of mind as they assess your trustworthiness:
- Are you capable of keeping the commitments you make?
- Are your intentions sufficiently benevolent or might you have reason to do harm?
Providing evidence for question #1 can be something of a Catch-22: to prove you’re capable you need a chance to perform, but you can’t get a chance to perform until others know you’re capable. The workaround is two-fold. First, volunteer for any assignments or tasks that others view as sufficiently low risk to delegate, but that allow you to demonstrate ability or aptitude. Secondly, actively educate others about your knowledge, skills, and experience. You may have already succeeded at something similar to what this company or team is facing, but your new boss and colleagues may not have detailed awareness of your track record. Map your past onto their present. Weave information about your competencies and past accomplishments into conversation. Leverage sources other than yourself to provide constructive information that will influence people’s perceptions. And make sure all of your online professional profiles are complete and up to date – how many times have you checked out someone’s qualifications using LinkedIn, the company intranet, or an alumni network?
Once others understand what you’re capable of, you need to prove that you will use those capabilities in a way that helps, or at the very least, does not purposely harm them. This is about communicating your character, consistency, and intentions. Start with the basics: keep your promises, align your words and deeds, and share who you are. Prudent self-disclosure helps in two ways. It communicates to others that you’re willing to trust them with information that they could use against you (in effect, you’re going first in the trust dance), and it helps others discover what they might have in common with you. Points of similarity are important because the more similar we are to someone, the more likely we are to trust them. Finally, perhaps the most powerful way to demonstrate your positive intentions is to represent or protect someone’s interests when they are not present to do so. Nothing gets back faster to someone than this benevolent gesture.
If you’ve found these suggestions to be helpful and you would like to learn more about building trusting relationships in the workplace, consider registering for HRDQ’s upcoming webinar, Can You Really Train Trust? on September 18, 2013.