How Do You Tell Someone That You Don’t Trust Them?

Trust has taken a hit lately in all facets of our life. Chalk it up to the combined effects of the economic meltdown, financial mismanagement, and an increasing sense that, in business at least, everyone seems to be in it only for themselves. The result has been dwindling levels of trust in organizations to a recent new low point where only seven percent of workers strongly agree that they trust their senior leaders to look out for their best interest.

But discussing trust can be a tricky issue.  How do you tell someone that you don’t trust them without them taking it personally?  To help with the process, Cynthia Olmstead, founder and president of TrustWorks Group, recommends stepping back from personal assessments of individual trustworthiness to instead focus on the behaviors that are leading to that conclusion.  By focusing on behaviors, you can begin a dialogue that allows trust to be discussed openly.  Olmstead recommends looking at four factors to help uncover some of the behaviors that might be eroding trust in a relationship.     

  • Ability—do leaders demonstrate competence through expertise, experience, and capability in getting the desired results?
  • Believability—do leaders walk the talk of a core set of values, demonstrate honesty, and use fair practices?
  • Connectedness—do leaders interact with staff, communicate and share information, provide praise, and give recognition?
  • Dependability—do leaders take accountability for their actions, and consistently follow up?

Once you’ve identified the behaviors that are causing trust levels to decline, think about ways that they could be rebuilt.  In order to be perceived as trustworthy, you have to act trustworthy.  Using the same four categories, Olmstead believes that leaders can look at their behavior and make changes accordingly. 

To learn more about these behaviors and improving trust in your organization be sure to check out the online article With Trust, It’s a Leader’s Behavior That Counts Most or learn more about a complimentary webinar that Olmstead will be conducting on May 20, Trust: The Critical Link to a High Energy Workplace.

Great leaders personify trust. What are the behaviors that generate trustworthy feelings in others? Identifying and acting in ways consistent with trustworthiness is one of the first ways to begin cracking that code.

2 thoughts on “How Do You Tell Someone That You Don’t Trust Them?

  1. It is up to leaders to create an environment of trust in an organization. Trustworthy feelings can be generated by encouraging transparency in communication and information sharing. Vineet Nayar in his book ‘Employees first, Customers second’, has mentioned that pushing the envelope of transparency helps build trust. Trust needs to be earned over time. As mentioned, great leaders personify trust.

  2. Trust is such a tricky thing. You can spend your entire life building it, but it only really takes one withdrawal from the account to spend it all…

    I like the idea of tying trust to the four categories you mentioned. It seems easier and more concrete than simply saying, “I don’t trust you.” After all, people need concrete feedback in order to be able to take meaningful steps forward.

    Thanks for provoking thought.

    Landon Creasy

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