The Thin Book of Trust

I have been reading and working through a book called The Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work over the past couple of weeks. It was suggested by a podcast I listen to and I found myself very interested, thinking it could apply in my work but also that it could help improve my leadership skills if I understood trust and how to earn it a little better.

The book defines trust and breaks it down into 4 Distinctions of Trust in order to facilitate a better understanding and conversations about trust and trust issues. Each of the Distinctions are then defined and explored individually, including suggestion about how to increase your trustworthiness in each of them and facilitate a conversation if someone else is currently compromising your trust in them through their behaviors in those areas. Below are the lessons I took away.

Ultimately, I found the book very insightful and pragmatic. It’s scope is limited to the workplace, but the concepts are easily expanded to the rest of your life with a bit of thought and flexibility. I highly suggest it for anyone hoping to develop their leadership ability from any level of authority.

Trust is… “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.”

Trust is made up of four distinctions: sincerity, reliability, competence, and care. Together, they define what we consider a person’s trustworthiness. In order to discover the root of trust issues, we can assess these Distinctions as they apply to ourselves and others.

Distrust is… “a general assessment that; what is important to me is not safe with this person in this situation (or any situation).”

The 4 Distinctions of Trust:

Sincerity is “the assessment that you are honest, say what you mean and mean what you say; you can be believed and taken seriously…” and that you express valid opinions based on sound thinking, evidence and/or experience.

Congruence is a huge part of the sincerity assessment. “Internal congruence means being honest with yourself, checking your intentions, making sure you believe and are committed to what you are saying. External Congruence means being honest and straightforward with others.”

Changing your mind is ok, but you need to let people know that your commitments have changed. Otherwise, everything you say will become suspect. Intentional deceit is especially important to avoid even if you think they are “harmless” or white lies.

Building Trust through Sincerity:

  • Be intentional about what you say, make sure you are communicating in a way that makes your intentions clear to anyone you say them to so that everyone is left with the same impression of your intentions.
  • Check with people regularly to make sure what you understood and what they understood match up, or to correct any miscommunication or lack of communication around the subject.
  • Check your internal congruence, your doubt-o-meter, and share important doubts with others.
  • Check your external congruence.
  • If they are open to it, ask people to summarize their understanding of what you are saying back to you so you are aware of how your communication is being understood.

Reliability is… “the assessment that you meet the commitments you make, that you keep promises.”

The Cycle of Commitment needs to be followed in order to establish clear, complete requests and commitments. This includes identifying the Customer, Performer, Action, Conditions of Satisfaction, and Timeframe and may result in a commitment, decline, negotiation, or commitment to commit (I need to check on… I’ll get back to you…). [You’ll see more on the Cycle of Commitment next week, so stay tuned!]

Building Trust through Reliability:

  • Before responding, make sure you have the required time, resources, and knowledge to commit.
  • If a request isn’t clear, ask for clarification. Don’t commit until you understand the expectations.
  • When offering to do something, be clear about what you will and won’t be doing so they know what to expect from you.
  • Make sure, when you are asking others to commit to something, you are using explicit request language like “Please do…” or “Will you please…”, avoid indirect requests or implied requests like “We need to…”, ” Someone should really…”, or “My coffee cup is empty.” (Implied request for someone to refill it).
  • Use the cycle of commitment intentionally, make it your instinct to use it for all requests, formally or informally.

Competence is… “the assessment that you have the ability to do what you say you are or propose to do, that you have the requisite capacity, skills, knowledge, and resources for a particular job or task.”

Sometimes being very competent in one area will cause people to assume that you are competent in related ways, this is called the Brightness Effect. For example, the brightness effect might make people assume that, because you are a great engineer, you must be good at managing engineers. Admit what you do and do not know and work to address the areas in which you are not competent or get help, depending on need.

Building Trust through Competence:

  • Make a list of areas you are competent in to clarify it for yourself and others.
  • Define the standards by which your competence is assessed, this may mean comparing your standards with others to have a clear and consistent understanding.
  • When you don’t know something, say so and ask for help, clarification, training, or whatever you need to perform.
  • Ask for feedback about your performance.

Care is… “the assessment that you have the other person’s interest in mind as well as your own.” It is one of the most important Distinctions for building lasting trust. With it, you will often be forgiven for small transgressions in the other Distinctions, without it, you will have limited/conditional trust at best, never full trust.

Building Trust through Care:

  • Listen to what is important to others and any concerns they have, watch their body language and use active listening, and let them know what is important to you as well.
  • Before you speak or act, ask yourself the following:
    • Will what I am about to say or do serve the people I work with and for as well as me?
    • Why do I believe it will serve them?
  • Tell people you work with what your hopes and desires are for the work you’re doing together.
  • If you manage people, clearly tell them what you expect from them and what they can expect from you.
  • When you make decisions or take action, let people know you understand how it affects them, even if the effect is adverse. Tell them why you’re doing it.
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