12 Things to Know About Trust in Times of Distrust

Workplace trust dos and don'ts

Posted Jun 24, 2017

We live in an age of decreasing trust and increasing cynicism. This, at a time when "The Attention Economy" is seeking to "win" a monetizing frenzy to capture our attention -- from click-bait headlines to fake news, addictive "likes" to targeted content niches, plus must-have technology, pay as you go games or shows, and more -- the race to control where we spend our time has reached new heights.

Overlay that with increasing anxiety-based perceptions, consuming everything from divisive politics to apocalyptic prognostications, all exacerbated through social media and a 24/7 news cycle. It's no wonder building trust is emerging as an outdated concept by some leaders, as old school as no jeans at work.

For those of you who think trust is no longer a necessary component for getting things done where you work, now is a good time to stop reading. But before you do, consider the dysfunctional model of distrust now permeating Congress.

For those who understand that trust is even more important in these difficult times, keep reading and consider the growing challenge you face. One part of that challenge is the outside world doesn't stay outside. The world "out there" seeps into workplaces -- its politics, fears, everyday worries. The country's mood has shifted.

The United Nations' 2017 World Happiness Report found that the U.S. dropped from 3rd in the world to 14th on its happiness measure. It's hard to be happy without trust, to feel a sense of well-being, life satisfaction, authentic connection, or a sustainable future. Even our neurophysiology is impacted in times of reduced trust. All of these impact work.

While most people put on a game face, operating with cordial and emotional hypocrisy at work, pretending there's trust and caring when there isn't much, doing so takes its toll on results, engagement, and well-being. However, highly effective leaders understand that. They know operating with trust is even more important in today's world; they understand engagement, innovation, and great results won't happen without trust.

Pexel-free to use
Source: Pexel-free to use

While growing distrust creates real challenges for workplace leaders, this is exactly the wrong time to operate without trust. Here are 12 trust dos and don'ts for difficult times:  


  • Don't give up on trust
  • Don't forget trust is situational and individual; not a blanket approach
  • Don't limit forthright communication or withdraw to behind-doors approaches
  • Don't believe others need to earn your trust; spark trust by giving trust
  • Don't give trust in an all or nothing approach, but grow it incrementally over time
  • Don't let what's happening outside of work cloud your hope or optimism about the people you work with every day


  • Do treat trust as the local issue it is; the people you lead look to you for trust
  • Do increase dialogue and operate with elevated communication
  • Do remember trust isn't inherently good or bad; but how you operate with it might be
  • Do enhance your understanding of authentic trust and how to build its skills
  • Do remember trust evolves in mutually beneficial relationships; create them
  • Do increase personal awareness and alignment between what's said and what's done

Being a trust-creator in an era of distrust may be lonely. Peer pressure to maintain an us-versus-them mentality, along with cynical and disengaged staff can make you wonder "Why am I even trying?" Countering these pulls to give up is one biggest hurdles you face. The question isn't: What can you really do swimming against a culture tide? Rather: What are you willing to do? Are you willing to lead toward trust?

 More tips about how to create 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