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What Does Trust Mean to You?

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Do you ever think about how often you use the word "trust" or find yourself thinking about issues of trust in your working relationships? In communications there is a concept that says, "the meanings of the words we use are often in the people who use them, not in the words themselves." Talking about trust is a common example of the concept.

We say, "I don't trust that person." Have we defined the "standard" we use to decide whether or not to trust that person? Have we communicated that standard to the person? Do we give honest feedback when they earn our trust or fail to earn it?

Our network of relationship can be small or large. In either case we need to define for ourselves, person by person, what our standard is for trusting that person. We might discover that we have one standard for all or different standards for different reasons. Our past experience shapes our willingness to trust but that experience might be completely separate from the person who I am now reluctant to trust. For example, I was recently coaching an individual who commented that one of the things he struggled with was lack of trust that the company was telling employees the "whole story" about business conditions. As a result regardless of whether the message about the business came from his boss or the General Manager, he always left the meeting believing there was more than he had been told. It turns out, this is his first job following a lay off that took him completely by surprise because the employee briefings at that company had always painted a positive picture of the business.

Are we prepared to accept the responsibility that comes with telling people we are reluctant to trust others? It is easy to say we are cautious in trusting others but more difficult to look in the mirror and ask ourselves how easy or difficult it is for others to trust us. Another example: in recently coaching a team both individually and collectively part of my work had been to conduct psychological testing, benchmark each person's data, develop a written report and provide an in-depth one-on-one feedback and coaching session. During the sessions I review the supporting data in detail, explain what metrics relate to what strength or development areas, explain the science and methodology of assessments, etc. Throughout the process I repeatedly ask questions such as, "does what the data indicate look, feel, sound familiar to you?" "Does it seem to be accurate?" I also tell them, "If there are areas in which you disagree I will go back over the data with you again and I encourage you to seek feedback from others about the things you disagree on."

In the course of the coaching work with the team, I became aware that outside of the one-on-one sessions, this person was telling others that he didn't believe a few tests could accurately identify your strengths and development areas, he was involved because it wasn't optional and he thought "this team building stuff" is a waste of time. At our next session, I asked him about his level of trust with the members of the team. He began to talk about a myriad of reasons that he was reluctant to trust certain members.

I asked him, "As an example, if you discovered that one of them was making negative comments about something you felt was important and useful but they had never told you that is how they felt, you would not view them as trustworthy? Correct?" His immediate answer was, "Yes." So I next asked him, "So if in working with this team as a coach other members of the team told me that another member of the team was making negative comments about the process and thinks it is a waste of time, I would have reason not to trust that person. Correct?" He went pale.

My coaching and feedback to him was this: If people are going to build trust in their relationships it is a two way street. I can't label you as not being worthy of my trust and then do things that make you question my trustworthiness. So, let's talk about your feelings regarding this process and your opinions and perceptions of it. I will respect your opinion even if it is the complete opposite of others on the team. I owe you that respect. What you owe me is a truthful opinion expressed directly to me. The same holds true for every relationship you have with your teammates. The question you have to answer for yourself is how truthful you are willing to be.

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