Trust: The New Workplace Currency

How to get it and why it matters.

How to Decide If You Should Trust Someone at Work

To trust or not to trust? Ask these questions.

A few months ago, Reader's Digest came out with "100 Most Trusted People in America” derived from a national poll. From it we learned Tom Hanks is the most trusted man in America, Sandra Bullock the most trusted woman, Michelle Obama the most trusted leader, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos the most trust business leader, and co-author of Good Morning America, Robin Roberts, "the most trusted woman on television.”

Interestingly Supreme Court Justices are less trusted than TV ones, and pundits who make us laugh are more trusted than those who don't. Despite results that were fodder for sound-bites and blog posts, the polling also found that people perceived as genuine are viewed as more trustworthy, and it's people we know, not the famous ones, we trust the most.

At work, it's the people we know who we trust the most, too. But, "knowing” people at work isn't always so easy where cross functional, diverse, ad hoc and "virtual” teams are prevalent, with generationally diverse and geographically separated coworkers. In today's workplace, the people we work with or are asked to lead may or may not be people we "know.”

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However, whether you know the people you're working with on a particular assignment, project, or endeavor or not, the reality is that you can't get great results at work without trusting others. Vertical trust. Horizontal trust. You'll need both.

If you're like most people, the thought of trusting someone you don't know with something that matters to you at work, should give you pause. Authentic trust - the kind you want at work - is not blind-trust, absolute or unconditional. It comes with risk. So, what do you do? How do you decide if you should trust him, or not trust her?

Assessing Your Risk

There's risk at work if you trust someone and find that trust broken. There's risk if you don't trust and your distrust fuels disengagement, unwanted behaviors, reduced well-being, or diminished results. If you want to be successful at work, you can't afford either.

The questions below are intended as a guide to help you think through a trust /don't trust decision when it arises based on the risk involved. There are certain things you should consider:

  1. How important is this task, issue, project? What's at stake for me if it fails or something goes wrong? What's at stake for the other person?
  2. What checks and balances or safety nets are currently in place to mitigate my risk? If there aren't any, what can I do to limit risk and increase my sense of security?
  3. What's the worst thing that can happen if I give this person my trust, related to this issue? What's the best thing that can happen?
  4. Even if I make a decision to trust this person, related to this issue or in this situation, how can I revisit how it's going, without micro-managing or impacting their sense of being trusted?
  5. Does trusting him or her increase my vulnerability or impact future interactions?
  6. What level of trust could I give as a first step?
  7. Will this relationship (or this project) be impacted if I don't offer trust to this person in this situation? If I do? How? Am I willing to have that happen?

Without trust, you can't create an effective work group, influence or lead people who do or don't report to you, or build strong working relationships. And while people aren't trustworthy to the same extent, when you assess the risks and choose to offer trust incrementally and situationally, you'll increase the likelihood of reaping the benefits trusted relationships at work bring.

More about the trust currency you need in the new workplace and how to build it:

You'll find more trust building approaches in Trust, Inc.: How to Create a Business Culture That Will Ignite Passion, Engagement, and Innovation (Career Press, 2013).

Nan S. Russell is a workplace expert with real-world experience, and the author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way.

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