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Trust and individuals

In times of uncertainty, trust can break down at an organisational level, but often a problem with trust starts between two individuals or within one particular team. As a manager, if you feel there has been a breakdown of trust, within your team as a whole or between you and another individual, even your boss, there is much you can do to repair the situation. On the other hand, if trust exists, it is sense and good practice not to be complacent: trust can and will from time to time break down or be threatened, and trust maintenance should be part of your behaviour.

Within your team

What if trust has broken down, or is at risk, within your team? The first thing here is to make it absolutely clear to your team that engaging in trust building does not necessarily mean that something is wrong or they are dysfunctional. While there may be some issues to address, it is important to understand that trust building is a sign of healthy and productive teams.

  • All high-performing teams meet to openly discuss interpersonal dynamics and trust-related issues on a regular basis.
  • High-performing teams address concerns or potential pitfalls in an upfront and timely manner.
  • Trust is the fundamental basis of effective teamwork.

Addressing concerns to improve trust

Here are some tips for addressing the issue if you have problems with a particular individual in your team (and, indeed, in general):

  • If you have a problem with someone, address the issue with them directly. Talking to anyone else won’t resolve the issue, only exacerbate the problem all the way around.
  • Addressing your concerns takes courage and compassion: courage to do the right thing, compassion to listen first for understanding.
  • If you need to seek the counsel of a third person prior to addressing the issue, do so discreetly, so as not to discredit the character of the other person.
  • If someone comes to you about a problem with another person, immediately redirect that individual back to the person in question.

How do I work with someone I don’t trust?

  • Start by exercising the behaviours that build contractual trust– establish boundaries and manage expectations closely.
  • Make sure that both parties (you and them) are keeping agreements.
  • Set up regular checkpoints to ensure everyone is operating with mutually-serving (win/win) intentions and actions versus hidden agendas.
  • Follow up any inconsistencies in behaviour.
  • Then, build communication trust – share information regarding what is working in the relationship; give constructive feedback regarding areas of opportunities and improvement.

How do I confront someone who betrayed me?

We offer this simple framework to help you clearly observe a trust-breaking situation and acknowledge its impact in order to confront someone who betrayed you.

  • When: describe the situation or context regarding when and where the trust-breaking situation took place. Be specific. An answer may sound like:

Last Wednesday, when we were in our morning team meeting discussing the necessary resources each member needed to complete their part of the team project…

  • What: describe the behaviour concerning the specific actions you observed, listing specific behaviours, not inferences:

You took credit for my part of the project without giving me any acknowledgement of my hard work. The way you spoke, it was as if you did the whole project single-handedly. That was both misleading to the team and totally disrespectful to me.

  • How: express the impact of the behaviour on you. Help the other person understand what was lost by their behaviour.

I was so angry that I could not voice my needs or express my perspective regarding my part of the project. Even though we are supposed to work together to bring this project to the next level, I wanted to have nothing to do with you.

The problem is this: it’s my boss

What do you do when you do not trust your boss? If you cannot transfer to another unit within the company or another job outside the firm, then follow many of the steps to be used with any individual whom you don’t trust (see above).

  • Start with the behaviours that build contractual trust – establish boundaries and manage expectations closely – ask your boss what he/she expects of you and share what you need from him/her.
  • Make sure you keep your agreements; question him/her when he/she does not.
  • Set up regular checkpoints to meet to review status on work assignments.
  • Then build communication trust – share information regarding what is working in the relationship; give constructive feedback regarding areas of opportunities and improvement.

When do I go over their head?

  • Always give the person the benefit of the doubt and address any issues with them directly first.
  • If they are unwilling to listen or resolve the issue with you, then seek support from someone above them, if possible.
  • When there is a severe breach, or an unethical or illegal issue at stake, it is appropriate to go over their head to their boss or to legal council and express your concern for them, the department and the company.

What if they’ve claimed credit for my idea/work?

People generally take credit for others work for a number of reasons:

  1. They want to look good in the eyes of their superiors, whether it be their boss, the board or key stakeholders
  2. They fear looking bad or incompetent
  3. They are generally insecure about or lack confidence in their own abilities.

Your actions in such a case should depend upon the severity and the impact of them taking credit for your work; in other words, we would recommend that you chose your battles carefully. If it becomes a pattern of behaviour, then we would recommend you address it, following the ‘When, What and How’ process above.

I never trust people’s assertions, I always judge of them by their actions.

Ann Radcliffe (1764 – 1823)