Trust is a person’s willingness to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another, according to a widely-used definition of the concept. Trust, the glue that holds society together, has shifted from institutional trust to a new form of distributed trust. Instead of flowing upwards to institutions, experts, authorities and regulators, it now flows more horizontally to peers, friends, colleagues and fellow users,” according to a 2017 article by Rachel Botsman for the World Economic Forum. Read further in this article on how to create and restore people’s trust in you at work.
Trust may seem a simple concept to many people, but it is actually highly complex and multi-dimensional: “The way that trust can be conceptualized is incredibly multifaceted,” observes Associate Professor Adam Waytz from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. For instance, there is multilevel trust (with an individual, group, firm, or institution); multidisciplinary trust; and trust as a cause, outcome, and influencer of attitude. Another business person may trust you, but not some of your colleagues – or vice versa. Trust can change over time – developing, building, declining, and even resurfacing in longstanding relationships. Trust takes different forms in different relationships, and the extent of trust may vary depending on the relationship’s history, and stage of development, as well as the context of the relationship. You need to think about these complexities when you want to create trust in you at work. Prof. Waytz says the two fundamental questions about trust are:
Why is trust so important to a person? Andy Eklund in his article “The benefits of trust” (2019) has noted many benefits that result from a trusting relationship. You can use these as a guide when you feel you need to create more trust in you at work. A person who trusts you will:
In understanding the benefits of greater trust, you can also understand the four key components of what you need to create and restore trust in you at work. The four key components of trust are benevolence, integrity, competence and predictability. These are based on extensive research by McKnight and Chervany: (“What is Trust? A Conceptual Analysis and An Interdisciplinary Model” and “Trust and Distrust Definitions: One Bite at a Time“.) These four components cover 92% of trust definitions found in 65 academic sources, according to McKnight & Chervany. It you feel a person has lost trust in you, or you need to create trust in you at work, reflect on each of these four variables, and develop a personal action plan comprising several steps addressing each component. This should enable you to recover lost ground. Regaining trust is not a quick fix, so you need to patient in your efforts to restore the trust of another person. Suggestions for possible actions you could take, both how to create and restore trust in you at work, could include:
Actions you can take as a communicator to create warmth (benevolence) and therefore trust. People care most about your warmth (ahead of competence) when they first meet you. To show benevolence, you can:
This means being honest, walking the talk, and fulfilling promises. You can’t trust someone unless you believe they have integrity. When someone is assessing your integrity, they’re wondering, “Do you have values I align with? Are you a good person?” Here are some suggestions that you can implement to clearly demonstrate the importance of good ethics to you that can lead to create and restore trust in you at work:
In addition, when making decisions you can ask yourself (and others) 5 questions that encourage good ethical practice in communication roles:
We decide whether to trust another person almost immediately, based largely on perceptions of their warmth and competence. Our social judgment based on these two dimensions accounts for more than 90% of the variance in the positive or negative impressions formed of other people, according to Harvard researchers Amy Cuddy, Matthew Kohut and John Neffinger:
“The best way to gain influence [and trust] is to combine warmth and strength. These traits can actually be mutually reinforcing: Feeling a sense of personal strength helps us to be more open, less threatened, and less threatening in stressful situations. When we feel confident and calm, we project authenticity and warmth.”
Through nonverbal behaviors that subtly communicate warmth and competence information, people can manage the impressions they make on colleagues, potential employers, and possible investors. The decisive factor is their warmth. The Harvard researchers detail how warmth can mean positive body language, affirming words, generous actions, and even a smile. Competence can be projected similarly through body language (such as standing up straight), your past track record, and the actions you take going forward.
Trust is created in people when there is a sense of predictability, dependability or familiarity that is positive. Your track record – your performance – will enable others to believe you have achieved the results for which you were trusted to follow through. When colleagues intuitively ask themselves about you, “What has this person done that proves I can trust her?” they would be thinking about the results you have achieved. According to Professor Eli Finkel from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University:
“People like to feel you are predictable so they can rely on you to behave and do what is expected. When we first get to know coworkers, we are really trying to figure out, ‘Can I predict the way they’re going to behave and respond in given situations?’ Over time, we start to conclude, ‘What sort of person is this? Is this somebody that I can trust?’ And then finally, if you have a long-term relationship at the workplace with someone, you can develop this sense of faith that the person is out there today and in the future and has your best interest at heart.”
Complete trust is rare. Instead, people partly trust and partly distrust simultaneously. In business relationships, two examples are:
“I trust your experience in completing this type of project, but I distrust your ability to meet deadlines,”
“Employees could feel confident about the organization’s capabilities – trust, while at the same time they are skeptical about whether the organization keeps employees’ interests in mind when making decisions – distrust,” as commented by Hongmei Shen in 2016.
Distrust is not just low trust or simply a lack of trust. It is a multi-dimensional concept encompassing rational as well as instinctive distrust. Elements of rational distrust include wariness, skepticism, self-interest, lack of confidence, concern about harm, suspicion, confrontation, guile, hostility, lack of caring and disrespect from the other person.
While trust is clearly considered to be a part of relationship management, distrust is not usually taken into account, or it may be implicit. You may even include it as a risk management factor in precautions in place for a project.
Mary Welch suggests trust and distrust can be viewed as co-existing in a fluid zone of approval. In her article “Rethinking relationship management” (Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2006), Welch gives the example of a client who places their trust in a service provider, but at the same time takes care to monitor the service provider’s performance. Aspects of the relationship may increase or decrease the levels of trust and distrust. (Honesty results in increased trust, failure to meet agreed deadlines results in increased distrust). Welch’s suggestion of a “zone of approval model of organizational-stakeholder trust and distrust” shows how aspects of the relationship may vary over time, as below:
Above diagram from Mary Welch article.
The idea of a zone of approval encompassing trust and distrust offers a fresh way to think about relationships and consequently, the possibility of managing them more effectively because both factors are taken into account, according to Welch.
How does our trust of another person respond to changes in levels of trust, trust violations and restoration of trust? Professor John Hershey from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania set up a money game that allowed his team to measure changes in personal trust over time.
The experiment revealed that “trust harmed by untrustworthy behavior can be effectively restored when individuals observe a consistent series of trustworthy actions.” Also, making a promise to change behavior can help speed up the trust recovery process.
But when a person’s trust is violated by deception, their trust is difficult to restore, such as when a person forgets to return something and then lies about it, or a work colleague doesn’t meet a deadline and then lies about the reason for missing it.
Trust is essential in daily business, whether we are relying on a colleague to finish their part of a project, a worker trusting their boss to compensate them for working extra time, or a customer trusting the company to deliver a product on time. Yet trust violations are common, ranging from serious misdeeds like fraud to lesser breaches such as taking credit for someone else’s work. For example:
The Wharton experiment found that trust can recover from a period of untrustworthy actions, but deception causes significant and enduring harm.
Even when the deception was followed by trustworthy actions, trust recovered more slowly and less completely than when participants were not deceived.
The researchers found different results for a promise and apology. A promise to change behavior helped to restore trust, especially initially, but a promise was not as effective when there had been deception. Although cooperation might be relatively easily restored, complete trust is not likely to be re-established.
Several studies have found that a simple apology can be very effective (References as below for: Bottom et al., 2002; Kim et al., 2004; Tomlinson et al., 2004). Researchers have identified five key components of an apology:
The takeaway: If you are working to rebuild trust, be sure that people are aware of your trustworthy attitude and behavior. When it comes to trust, actions matter, but they don’t always speak louder than words tactfully spoken that reflect your responsible attitude.
Trust, a central element in many interpersonal interactions, can begin to flourish right from the start of a relationship. It is “the single most important element of a good working relationship,” according to various scholars. Therefore, when someone causes distrust from the start of a personal or business relationship (“getting off on the wrong foot”), this invariably causes severe long-term problems in the relationship. Although later breaches in a relationship seem to limit cooperation for only a short time, they still plant a seed of distrust that surfaces later.
In starting a new relationship, such as when employees meet a new boss, people are particularly sensitive about how they will be treated. They want sufficient dignity and respect – they want to be trusted – and so if you are a new boss, you need to make your staff feel wanted and valuable. You want to create and restore their trust in you at work.
Read my article, “Building trust through subtle cues,” for further insights into how to create and restore trust in you at work.
Bottom, W. P., Gibson, K., Daniels, S., & Murnighan, J. K. (2002). When talk is not cheap: substantive penance and expressions of intent in the reestablishment of cooperation. Organizational Science, Vol. 13, pp. 497-513.
Kim, P.H., Ferrin, D.L., Cooper, C.D., & Dirks, K.T. (2004). Removing the shadow of suspicion: The effects of apology vs. denial for repairing ability- vs. integrity-based trust violations. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 89, pp. 104-118.
Tomlinson, E. C., Dineen, B. R., & Lewicki, R. J. (2004). The road to reconciliation: Antecedents of victim willingness to reconcile following a broken promise. ournal of Management, Vol. 30, pp. 165-187.
By Silvia Arto, Vice President of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, Chair of the European Regional
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