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Three Ways to Avoid Fake Trust at Work

Thinking yourself in or out of trust.

There's a small sign on my wall, visible from my desk as I write. It reads: "Don't Believe Everything You Think." Good advice on many fronts, but great advice when it comes to workplace trust. Here's why:

  • We can "think" ourselves into trusting or distrusting others at work.
  • We can easily misread, misunderstand, or misinterpret others' messages, conversations, body language or actions, giving or withholding trust as a result.
  • We can incorporate others stated thoughts (bosses, co-workers) into our own trust spheres or perspective, absorbing someone else's views over time as if our own.
  • We can adopt thinking influenced by generational, gender, ethnic, or political groups who look like, act like, think like, or seem like us, thus giving or withholding trust when we shouldn't.

Since our thoughts and beliefs impact our perceptions about others, and influence our trust/no-trust decisions, those who operate with authentic workplace trust understand the importance of critically reviewing our own thinking. Are we following along or thinking for ourselves; getting on the bandwagon or considering differing points of view?

Self-awareness about how or why we believe the way we do about a certain person, department, level, role, or issue is an important workplace skill. While we are all subject to varying degrees of influence at work, for various reasons, monitoring its role in our own trust decision-making is a needed skill.

For example, there are some who believe people in positions of authority or leadership are inherently more trustworthy than those who aren't; others believe the opposite. Neither is right, of course, since trust is an individual, not a collective, undertaking.

That reality didn't stop one company I worked with from creating policies, different by position level and governed by entrenched shadow-of-the-leader beliefs, that salaried employees could be trusted while hourly staff couldn't. The differences in treatment based on that "simple" belief were vast.

Even ubiquitous quotations, common on social media platforms, can impact thinking. I'm a quote lover, but just like our own thoughts aren't always correct, neither are others. When it comes to trust, some quotations are seriously wrong. Here are two examples:

  • "Act like you trust people but don't." This approach is alive in many workplaces. It leads to something called, "cordial hypocrisy," where people "pretend there is trust when there is none." Most aren't fooled for long by fake trust at work. Low engagement, limited discretionary efforts, and reduced innovation result quickly.
  • "I don't trust people who don't love cats"; or "don't love dogs"; or "don't love what I love." Sharing physical traits with others creates something called, "perceived attitudinal similarity," according to researchers. But people who look like us, or think like us, aren't more worthy of our trust than people who don't.

Three don'ts about trust at work in an era where fake is becoming the new normal:

  1. PexelsImage - free to use and share
    Source: PexelsImage - free to use and share
    Don't be fooled into thinking you should trust people at work because they are like you, or distrust them because they're not.
  2. Don't confuse being on the same thought-train with being on the same trust-plain.
  3. Don't automatically accept that your thoughts are influence free and correct; challenge your assumptions and beliefs regularly.
PexelsImage - free to use and share
Source: PexelsImage - free to use and share

The antidote for fake trust at work is authentic trust. That's the kind of trust needed for a thriving workgroup or engaged workplace culture. Authentic trust requires thoughtful judgment, plus consistent behaviors that create, build, and nurture genuine relationships. It also requires self-awareness in both our thoughts and actions.

Tips about how to create, give, and operate with new workplace currency of trust:

You'll find 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 is a former corporate executive and the author of four books, including, Trust, Inc. and The Titleless Leader.