No one disagrees that trust is an indispensable ingredient of strong, healthy relationships. In the workplace, high levels of trust increase productivity, efficiency, innovation,and profitability. When trust is low or absent, people avoid risk, decisions are questioned, bureaucracy increases, and productivity and profitability diminish.
However, there are some uncomfortable truths about trust we must confront. These difficult areas often hold us back from fully trusting others and enjoying the personal and corporate benefits of high-trust relationships. We often shy away from acknowledging or addressing these truths because they are exactly that – uncomfortable. But confront them we must if we are to grow in our capacity to trust others and be trustworthy ourselves.
Four Uncomfortable Truths about Trust
1. Trust exposes you to risk – Without risk there is no need for trust. When you trust someone, you are making yourself vulnerable and opening yourself to being let down. That’s scary! People are unpredictable and fallible; mistakes happen. We all know and accept that fact as a truism of the human condition. But are you willing to let the mistakes happen with or to you? Ah, now that’s where the rubber hits the road, doesn’t it? It’s one thing to be accepting of other people’s fallibility when it doesn’t directly affect you. But when it messes up your world? Trust suddenly becomes very uncomfortable and painful.
If you are risk-averse and slow to trust others, take baby steps to increase your comfort level. Start by trusting others with tasks or responsibilities that have no or minimal negative consequences should the person not follow through. As the person proves trustworthy in small matters, extend greater amounts of trust in larger, more important matters.
2. Trust means letting go of control – Most people assume that distrust is the opposite of trust. Not true. Control is the opposite of trust. When you don’t trust someone, you try to retain control of the person or situation. In a leadership capacity, the desire to control often leads to micromanagement, an employee’s worst nightmare and one of the greatest eroders of trust in relationships. Control, of course, is closely related to your level of risk tolerance. The lower your tolerance for risk, the higher degree of control you try to exert.
The truth is we really don’t have as much control as we think we do. I’m defining control as that which you have direct and complete power over. You may be able to control certain aspects of situations or influence people or circumstances, but when you consider that definition, you really only have control over yourself—your actions, attitudes, values, emotions, opinions, and the degree of trust you extend to others. As I wrote about in this post, you can learn to let go of control and like it!
3. Trust requires a personal investment – Trust doesn’t come free; it costs you dearly. Whether it’s your acceptance of risk, loss of control, emotional attachment, time, energy, or money, trust requires a personal investment. Trust works best in a reciprocal environment. I trust you with something and in exchange you reciprocate by trusting me. It’s the very foundation of cooperative society and our global economy. Trust without reciprocation is exploitation. Whether or not you receive anything in return, trust requires a down payment in some form or fashion. From the perspective of earning trust from someone else, trust requires your investment in demonstrating your competence, integrity, care for the relationship, and dependability – the four key elements of trust.
4. Trust is a journey – Establishing trust in a relationship is not a destination; it’s a journey. It’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride as you experience the highs and lows of building relationships and nurturing the development of trust. Trust isn’t something you can mandate. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Trust has to be given freely for it to achieve its fullest power. Who do you trust more? The person who demands your trust and allegiance, or the one who earns it by his/her behavior over time? Because trust needs to be given freely, you can’t put a timer on its development. Trust grows according to its own schedule, not yours. Patience is a prerequisite on the journey to high trust.
It’s human nature to prefer comfort and safety, but trust is anything but comfortable and safe. Trust pushes us out of our comfort zones into the world of risk and uncertainty. Yet in one of the strange paradoxes of trust, confronting these uncomfortable truths allows us to achieve the very things we desire: safety, security, comfort, reliability, and predictability. Confront these uncomfortable truths about trust. You won’t regret it.
Randy Conley is the Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies and his LeaderChat posts normally appear the fourth Thursday of every month. For more insights on trust and leadership, visit Randy at his Leading with Trust blog or follow him on Twitter @RandyConley.