The Dimmer-Switch Approach to Trust Building

Using the trust-accountability connection

Posted Mar 29, 2012

I'm with 20th-century humorist, Will Rogers who said, "I would rather be the man who bought the Brooklyn Bridge than the man who sold it." And yet, none of us want to fall for a scam, risk failed results, or believe false promises. None of us want to naïvely give our trust at work.

Yet, many do the equivalent without realizing it.

Workplace and business relationships are complex. And so is authentic trust building. Trust evolves incrementally over time, is based on sound judgment, and is not a blank check. There are limits and conditions. Those who give authentic trust understand there is the possibility of a breach of trust, and weigh risks and benefits before proceeding.

Think of authentic trust building like turning up a dimmer switch. You gradually turn the light brighter to fit your needs. It you turn it up too bright, you can turn it down and adjust the level. Giving trust is like that.

Use the Dimmer-Switch Trust Building Approach

High performing work relationships emerge from trust. Accountable actions, grounded in consistent behaviors and commitments honored and fulfilled, fuel more trust-giving.

Trust begins by giving trust. Here's how it works:

  • Start on low. Early in a new relationship, you might say, "Run it by me first." If that happens, move forward, giving more trust as it makes sense according to risk, experience, and communication level.
  • Move to medium. If things are operating well, you'll clearly notice accountability demonstrated by the other person. Adjust the trust level to something like, "Keep me posted on what you're doing." As long as you're receiving the reports, meetings, or updates you're comfortable with, turn up the trust.
  • Higher and higher. Adjust trust upward as results occur and the relationship and accountability levels prosper. Eventually, an extremely high trust relationship operates something like, "Let me know if you get into trouble or need my help." Even at very high trust levels, communication remains essential to keep each other current and connected on issues.
  • Lower and lower. There are times when turning back the dimmer switch and reducing trust is required. Certainly, this happens if the person's accountability has slipped. But often it's not a personal issue but a business one that drives the fluctuation: e.g. reorganizations, accelerated deadlines, redirection, or new initiatives. Relationships built on authentic trust understand trust levels can fluctuate based on work issues.

Central to a dimmer-switch model is the understanding that accountability builds trust. In fact, authentic trust requires it. But it's not the kind of accountability used as an organizational buzz word related to compliance-driven behaviors, or "you need to be more accountable" finger-pointing.

Below you'll find more tips for how to increase your trust currency:

You'll find more trust building tips in my new book, The Titleless Leader.