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Positive Intentions Build Workplace Trust

Three questions to ask about your intentions at work

Two articles crossed my desk on the same day; both gave me pause. The first described a "service," complete with fake IDs, where aspiring teachers could hire test-takers to complete their certification and licensing exams. The second highlighted results from the 2012 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth. It found that cheating and lying have decreased, and 99 percent of sampled students reported, "it is very important to have good moral character."

Consider these stories in light of the teacher and student intentions behind them, and their trust building impact. If your intention is to help students by being a great teacher, you'd clearly take and pass your own exams. Similarly, if your intention as a student is to operate with "good moral character," lying and cheating wouldn't be part in your repertoire.

Intention drives behavior. The intention behind our actions impacts our trust building ability. Positive intentions build trust; negative intentions don't. Carnegie Mellon Professor D. M. Rousseau puts it this way, "Trust is a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based on positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another."

If you want trusting relationships at work, start by understanding your intentions.

  • What do you have in mind? That's intention.
  • What do you want as an outcome? That's intention.
  • What are you trying to bring about? That's intention.

Those who operate with trust challenge themselves to view their behavior in this context. If you want to build trust at work, there are three questions you should ask about your intentions:

1. What is your attachment level?

The higher your attachment to a particular outcome, the greater indicator of your intention. If your intention is to win an argument, you can watch yourself dig in, rejecting problem solving or compromise. If you intention is to create the best idea, you'll welcome input, critique, and different outcomes. The more positive and open your intention, the lower the attachment to one specific outcome, and the higher your trust building potential.

1. What is your attachment level?

2. What is your comfort level? If you're feeling great about what you're doing and how you're doing it, your comfort level, most likely, matches a positive intention. But if that comfort level is low, your intention may be less than honorable. Sometimes we manipulate others, stretch the truth, and deceive ourselves and others into believing we're operating with an honest approach, only to be nudged by a feeling of discomfort about the path we're on. Ill intentions (your own or other's) usually offer clues in the form of discomfort.

3. What is your assumption level? Check your intentions by the assumptions you make about others, since we tend to believe people are like us. If you're well intentioned and trustworthy, you'll assume most are, too. If you're not, you'll doubt others are. When your assumptions about others get off-track, realign with the most people rule: most people, most of the time, are doing what they believe is the right thing to do. Most people are well-intentioned.

Intentions may be schemes or dreams, wishes or cravings, plans or strategies. They're clues to personal motivation and goal attainment, alerting you to the why behind your actions and whether your behaviors will build or diminish trust.

Interested in more trust building tips?

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.

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