Trust seems to be in short supply these days. Democrats don’t trust Republicans. Israelis don’t trust Palestinians. Christians don’t trust Muslims. CEO’s don’t trust employees and vice versa. It’s a sad state of affairs, given that trust is essential for compromise, collaboration, and co-existence. We will not follow a leader nor will we be engaged in the task unless we trust that leader. As human beings we need to believe that we can rely on others to keep their word, that they will do the right thing, and that they will not do anything that is harmful to us. Some leaders believe, apparently, that they can say and do anything to get what they want and then apologize, if need be, later. They falsly believe that control is more powerful than trust. It’s as if it is the earned right of a politician or an executive to behave in this way. The cost of this kind of behavior is a loss of trust by the people surrounding these leaders.
Leaders can learn to build and retain the trust of others. Stephen M.R. Covey offers 13 ways to do this:
- Talk Straight
- Demonstrate Concern
- Create Transparency
- Right Wrongs
- Show Loyalty
- Deliver Results
- Get Better
- Confront Reality
- Clarify Expectations
- Practice Accountability
- Listen First
- Keep Commitments
- Extend Trust
I would move “keep commitments” to the top of this list. That’s usually our first opportunity to behave in a trustworthy fashion. From something as seemingly trivial as promptly returning a phone call to showing up at a meeting on time to arranging a promised jog change, we show that we deserve to be trusted.
Even if we work at building trust, each of us will at some point do things unintentionally that break down trust. For example, we miss an appointment, we forget to keep someone in the loop on a project, or we are unable to keep a promise that we made. We can recover; we must recover. Randy Conley lists five things we can do to heal the wounds. He writes:
- Acknowledge that trust has been broken.
- Admit your role in causing the breach of trust.
- Apologize for what happened.
- Assess where the breakdown in trust happened…
- Amend the situation by taking corrective action to repair any damage that has been done, and create an action plan for how you’ll improve in the future.
Why do we make it so difficult? It’s simply a matter of making commitments we can keep, following through, and apologizing sincerely if we can’t. Of course, it’s more than that, but that’s the essence of building and retaining trust.