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Why Don't We Trust Each Other More?

5 reasons trust languishes between us at work

In l976, trust in the media was at 76 percent, according to Gallup. That was the highest level since their question about media trust began. Today, it's at 32 percent. A similar drop happened regarding trust in official organizational communications for employees at all levels. Yet, the diminishing trust problem goes well beyond the communications we get.

Trust is languishing at historic lows from government offices to workplace cubicles. This at a time when next generation leaders view trusting others skeptically. According to Pew Research only 19 percent of millennials "believe that 'most people can be trusted.'"

Why should they? There are faux followers on Twitter, counterfeit professionals on LinkedIn, and millions of fake Facebook accounts. At work, the people are real but not the relationships. A common style reinforced in many work cultures is one authors Solomon and Flores call "cordial hypocrisy," in which people "pretend there is trust when there is none."

While there are many reasons for our societal trust challenges, consider these five that impact why trust continues to languish in our workplaces:

BingImage-Public Domain
Source: BingImage-Public Domain
  1. What goes around comes around. Gallup reports 73 percent of surveyed teenagers say they "get the trust they deserve from their parents or guardians." Too bad more organizational and government leaders, coworkers, and teammates don't apply that same self-awareness to the trust given to them.
  2. The better-than-average illusion. The vast majority of people aren't too worried about workplace trust, at least when it applies to them. Since most people think they're better than average, trust problems are what other people have.
  3. Words don't agree with actions. Words provide the backdrop for how actions are measured. Alignment between words and actions gives others a way to judge trustworthiness. Word-action alignment, known as behavioral integrity, is a trust essential.
  4. A blanketing approach. We lump people in groups – staff or management, skilled or unskilled, salaried or hourly, my team or other team. But a person's role, status, or group label doesn't determine trustworthiness. Trust is about individuals, not groups. Blanketing approaches impede the growth of trusted relationships.
  5. Trust is misunderstood. The word itself means different things to different people. But trust is a skill and way of operating that involves decisions, judgments, and risks. Trust doesn't happen like an on-off switch. It's something you create and nurture. Building and sustaining trust is an ongoing process.

Diminished trust levels at work and in society are shared problems impacting our collective relationships, engagement, innovation, and well-being. Trust isn't just about "them" out there; it's also about us. If we post fake reviews on line, call out sick when we're not, re-tweet something that isn't true, or embellish our social media profile or resume, we contribute to reduced trust.

When we allow the win to become more important than how it's achieved, we impact the society and workplaces we share. But the good news is you have the ability to change that; too positively impact trust levels where you live and work. After all, trust is a local issue. Want more trust? Start making some.

More tips about how to make and operate with trust at work:

You'll find more tips and how-tos in my book: Trust, Inc.: How to Create a Business Culture That Will Ignite Passion, Engagement, and Innovation

About the Author
Nan S Russell

Nan S. Russell is a former corporate executive and the author of four books, including, Trust, Inc. and The Titleless Leader.