Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 9, Issue 3;   January 21, 2009: Creating Trust

Creating Trust

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What can you do when you discover that the environment at work is permeated with distrust? Your position in the organization does affect your choices, but here are some suggestions that might be helpful to anyone.
Lake Chaubunagungamaug sign

Lake Chaubunagungamaug sign. The lake is known by various names, including Lake Webster and Lake Char-gogg-agogg-manchaugg-agogg-cha-bun-a-gun-ga-maugg. It was shortly after moving to Massachusetts that I was first told of the latter name and its translation by a native of Massachusetts. The translation I heard was once put forward by Laurence J. Daly jokingly in an article in a Worcester, Massachusetts, newspaper as "You fish on your side, I fish on my side, and nobody fish in the middle." The hoax is now almost 100 years old and it is still going strong. I do believe that one reason why the hoax translation is so widely accepted is that it is good advice, along the lines of "Stay in your own hula-hoop." Photo courtesy Bree and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Trust in one another at work is like fresh air — it's one of those niceties we don't really think about until it's gone. And when it is gone, its absence harms both the organization and its people. Life at work becomes more stressful and a lot less fun, and the company's operating costs climb. But when Trust is lacking, what we can do to create it?

Although we can tell ourselves that being more trusting ourselves will improve things, that approach is unlikely to yield lasting improvement in a low-trust environment. The mechanisms that created the environment are still in place, and they tend to undermine everyone's efforts to be more trusting.

What's needed is direct action to reduce the incidence of behaviors that create low trust. These actions must give their actors complete control over the results, unlike the hope-based tactics, which ask the actors to ante-up in the hope that others will respond only constructively.

Here are some things you can do to foster Trust at work.

Stay in your own hula-hoop
If you have any experience with hula-hoops, you know it's impossible to hula your own hoop and someone else's hoop at the same time. If you try, you mess up both. One cause of distrust is the perception of infringement on the rights and responsibilities of others. Whether it's seen as a power grab, disrespect, contempt, superciliousness, arrogance, or any of a number of other patterns, infringement can cause those infringed upon to ask "What next?" They can quickly move to defensive, distrustful postures that might not be specific to the infringers. See "Stay in Your Own Hula Hoop," Point Lookout for June 27, 2001, for more.
Know your role
It's easier to stay in your own hula-hoop if you know which hula-hoop is yours. You don't really need to know as much about anyone else's hula-hoop. Know yours and know it well.
It takes more than being
more trusting to create
a trusting environment
Understand the Fundamental Attribution Error
When we try to understand the motives of others, we tend to put too much weight on character, and too little on the circumstances that others see. We do this because it's easier for us to make mental models of the character of another than it is to model the world as the other sees it. This leads us to attribute threat to intention, often erroneously. For more, see "The Fundamental Attribution Error," Point Lookout for May 5, 2004.
Know your favorite tactics for dealing with distrust
Often, we slip into these tactics without realizing that we're feeling threatened. Noticing your favorite distrust tactics could be your first indication that you feel threatened. And that can be useful if you want a more constructive approach.

One more thing you can do: spread the word. Forward this article to a friend. Pick one you trust. Go to top Top  Next issue: How to Avoid a Layoff: The Inside Stuff  Next Issue

For more about Trust, see "TINOs: Teams in Name Only," Point Lookout for March 19, 2008, "The High Cost of Low Trust: I," Point Lookout for April 19, 2006, and "Express Your Appreciation and Trust," Point Lookout for January 16, 2002.

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

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