Trust Issues in The Workplace

When someone on your team tells you that there is a trust issue, that can mean a variety of things. Not all trust issues in the workplace are the same, and there is no magic bullet for addressing these dynamics. The word ‘Trust’ means a lot of things to a lot of different people. It can bring thoughts of honesty, reliability, judgment calls, or even just a gut feeling we have about someone. The problem when a team doesn’t have acceptable levels of trust is that it creates all kinds of issues including performance, efficiencies, stress, and most importantly results. It takes a long time to build trust with co-workers and teams because we willingly or otherwise put one another through various tests that raise or lower our confidence regarding the level of threat someone may or may not possess. The volatile nature of trust makes it so easy to destroy in 10 seconds what may have taken 10 years to create. 


Trust is how we, as people, intuitively protect ourselves, but we like to trust others, and it greatly expands our positive emotions and opportunities. Without trust, we would live in a small bubble and make little to no progress. But there are different types and levels of trust and, even though the emotions we feel when the trust is broken are equally strong, we must look at each situation on a case-by-case basis because there is a variable called intent. Was the trust intentionally or knowingly broken? Can the action be forgiven, and the trust repaired? There is a process to heal infractions of trust, but we must first understand each level of trust and why it is so important.


Level 1 Performance: Someone is either not meeting expectations or is not doing what they are saying they are going to do. Either scenario could be intentional or unintentional. These issues can be easy to work through by communicating and monitoring the proper expectations. 


Level 2 Communication: Someone was dishonest; they didn’t tell the truth. Or perhaps they withheld or misrepresented information. This can be difficult because truth and communication are so subjective. The key is to have the right conversation with the right people in the right way. 


Level 3 Interpersonal: This is where we dislike someone with or without cause. Perhaps it is because of an experience you had with someone or an experience you heard about them. You can see this in the form of drama, gossip, and general dislike. Oftentimes the best solution is to create a common and achievable goal for the parties to work on together to slowly build trust over time.


Level 4 Integrity: This is one simple word; betrayal. This is the willingness, if not nobleness, to do the right thing under any circumstance. In fact, integrity is found in all levels of trust because it is most closely tied to intent. But we isolate integrity as an issue in the workplace because once it has been damaged, it is difficult to restore. People observe and believe in behavioral patterns and that is why it is so difficult for us to change our minds about someone. The question is whether or not someone wants or deserves a second chance. If you can answer ‘yes’ to both of those questions, then a trust-but-verify relationship must be established to repair the integrity.   

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