Trust for Dummies: Why Trust is Crucial for Our Survival and How to Revive and Cultivate It

“Trust opens up new and unimagined possibilities.” Robert C. Solomon

When my parents brought me to the US, they envisioned providing me a better life than they were accustomed to in Cameroon. Like most immigrants, my parents strongly believed America would avail me better education, better opportunities, better healthcare, etc., all of that. This immigrant ethos is at the core of America’s foundational identity.

“Trust, once established, ignites creativity, purpose, and actions of all forms.”  Terence Oben

While my parents liked many aspects of our Cameroonian heritage, their belief in America’s promise over the alternative was because they had lost trust in Cameroon’s systems.

There is hardly any aspect of our human experience that isn’t founded on trust – a “firm belief in the reliability, character, strength or truth of someone or something.” It is inherent in every relationship and interaction we have – whether that be with friends, colleagues, or business partners. Companies, like countries, operate on trust.

Similarly, entrusting your heart or hard-earned money to someone else is dependent on trust. Trust, once established, ignites creativity, purpose, and actions of all forms.

What happens when trust is fractured

When trust is fractured, it’s usually because of behaviors and practices that are incongruent with our values, needs, and interests. Having caused a heartbreak or two, and also experienced my fair share of workplace disillusionment I am no stranger to this and I’m sure you may have a few interesting stories yourself.

Governments and businesses are also rife with behaviors that erode trust; from massive frauds and misconducts to alarming abuses of power, we seem to barely recover from one crisis before the next one springs up. Sometimes it feels like the very currency that binds us, is so often taken for granted by those who have earned it, entrusted with it, and need to keep nurturing it. 

Dysfunctional leadership practices including lack of a cohesive vision, inconsistent and abrasive communication, unclear expectations, unfair treatments, misaligned incentives, inadequate processes, inaccurate and incomplete information etc., all contribute to employee distrust.

Of course there are legal and regulatory consequences for outright misconducts and frauds. What is often less talked about are the human cost these behaviors leave in their wake.

  • Team members exhibit and accept widespread complacency and apathy, building up feelings of resentment and insecurity
  • People leave for a “better” reality because they lack confidence in the integrity of the people and systems they are a part of
  • Consumers directly feel this tension, they feel they’re being taken advantage off, and begin engaging less with the brand

While there may be different reasons that influence people’s decisions in the above examples, trust is a foundational thread that weaves through all these actions.

How you can restore and cultivate trust 

Whether it’s moving to another state or country, changing jobs, pursuing a new relationship, we do this in the belief of better. This is a commitment to upholding certain values while in pursuit of our objectives.

Many people and companies espouse values they only sometimes follow in practice. As trust exists in a continuum, continuous alignment of value-driven behaviors is paramount. Whatever your value-system is, this framework can help you drive trustworthy behaviors. Think of them as dials that can be tuned and adjusted to varying degrees and frequencies rather than absolute measures.

  1.  Establish clear and unambiguous expectations for responsible behaviors and practices. Trust is always underpinned by the expectations set for it.
  2.  Be Transparent. Your stakeholders should know all the factors that influence a decision, including the process used to arrive at the decision. Transparency enables confidence in people and systems.
  3.  Be Consistent. Consistently practice, reward, and incentivize value-driven behaviors through personal example and adhering to your principles.
  4.  Be Accountable. Own your decisions and associated outcomes. Accountability builds trust, it is how we learn and grow. Clarity and transparency also bring about accountability – it’s less likely for people to hide behind decisions where their responsibilities are understood and expectations associated with those decisions clearly outlined.
  5.  Reflect and measure. Periodically reflect on your progress and measure alignment with expectations, finding constructive ways to learn and improve.

When these qualities come together, they create an atmosphere where we start to trust each other, we feel comfortable sharing ideas, raising concerns, and holding each other accountable. They form virtuous cycle that reinforces and protects our reputation for integrity and leadership in socially responsible practices.

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