Trust should be the concrete foundation of a relationship, and yet it can also be the reason that the relationship ends or is in constant question. When I talk to employees about why they are unhappy, trust for leaders is often recounted as one of the main reasons that they feel unsupported. There are so many ways that trust can be broken besides the typical flat out untruth, and sometimes I think it can happen without us really even realizing it until it’s too late. I do know that trust is imperative for a supportive culture and positive, collaborative climate.
I don’t trust you to keep me informed
I’ve often found that a lack of transparency can lead to feelings of distrust. When people feel that there is more information needed to make a decision, or to know the “why” behind a decision, they tend to feel like it’s possible that the information was intentionally hidden. This can be made worse if a decision was made that fails and subsequent data or information is released that doesn’t support the original decision. When details are missing, people wonder why, and trust in the people making decisions can be shaky. Withholding important information will often be seen as the same level as a blatant lie because both are done with intentionality.
I don’t trust you to try your hardest
In having a conversation with my friend one day, he told me “You can’t place your own expectations on people and then get disappointed when they don’t live up to them. Your expectations are yours alone.” I found that when I had high expectations for someone and they didn’t rise to meet them, that I would begin to feel like I couldn’t trust that they were doing everything they could to create a successful situation. I would begin to not trust that they would ever do it, and therefore not trust the person. Knowing this has made me more cognizant of the expectations I have for people and if they are reasonable. Also, reflecting on if they would be general expectations or if I have made them higher because of who they are or their relationship to me, and also if I would place the same expectations on myself if I were in that situation. I try to be aware, however, that just because I deem them as reasonable and appropriate, still doesn’t necessarily make my expectations right.
I don’t trust you to be consistent
Along with expectations, I have written about creating trust by being as close to your real self as possible all the time. When we meet people, work with them, begin to trust and know them, we begin to pick out certain aspects of their personality that are constant. When those traits unexpectedly change or a decision is made that doesn’t jive with previous decisions, we start to mistrust not only the person but question their reliability. I, personally, really struggle with people who have unreliable personalities as far as I never know what I’m going to get when I talk to them from day to day. The more constant and reliable someone is, the more likely we are to trust them because we know what to expect all the time. The problem is when they waiver from that reassuring consistency. The more consistent their personality, the more an off decision or act will give the feeling of whiplash. On the flip side, someone who’s only consistency is being inconsistent may never have the trust that is needed because people don’t ever know what to expect from them.
I don’t trust you to do what you say you will
Follow through might be one of the most important aspects of trust, especially if trust has been broken at some point. When people know that you’ll stand behind your word, they are more likely to trust that whatever needs to get done will get done. Also, the quality of follow through matters. If a task is accomplished only half-way or with little effort, trust will begin to waiver as people will wonder why it couldn’t have been done right in the first place.
I don’t trust you to tell me to do something you really believe in
People often place a high amount of value on what they choose to spend their time on. Therefore, when they’re asked to spend their time on an idea or implementation, they generally want to know the reasons behind that, and rightfully so. The problem comes in when they are asked to do something that is not being modeled for them, which brings on the question, “why is it important for me to spend my time on it, but not that person?” making people leery of the person assigning the task. When this is done repeatedly, it can lead to mistrust. (This is, of course, assuming that the task is not just part of that person’s role.)
When distrust has been part of a culture, it takes a great deal of time to get back. I know for me, when I have broken someone’s trust, it has taken effort, time & consistency to get it back. Because trust is one of the foundational tenets of any relationship, not having it can be detrimental to both the relationship and the positive climate & supportive culture we dream of building. We often discuss teachers not trusting administrators, but I’ve seen it the other way around as well. Generally, I’ve found that when administration doesn’t trust teachers, they insert compliance measures (sometimes label it as accountability), which starts the vicious cycle of the teachers then feeling not trusted, and subsequently not trusting administration to be supportive. But trust needs to go both ways, and not only do we need to work to cultivate it, but we need to also be trustworthy and reliable to sustain it.