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  • Marissa Badgley

Do You Trust Me? Can You Tell Me Why?

It is no secret that trust and trustworthiness are essential to healthy relationships and highly functional workplaces. In almost every discovery call I have, leaders and workers tell me that trust is a challenge on their team or in their organization. What is interesting is that it is rare for one of those leaders or workers to be able to tell me specifically WHY mistrust is rampant or precisely where trust breaks down.


Over the course of human evolution, trust has become a diffuse, subjective, and mysterious concept that relies on gut instincts and somewhat primal intuition. Our minds and bodies tell us when someone or something is untrustworthy, and we act accordingly in order to survive, even when our survival is not on the line. Many times, the choice to trust or not to trust is subconscious and immediate, meaning that our judgments are frequently impacted by implicit bias and our previous experiences in the world. They are also influenced by subtle neuro-linguistic signals and triggers, many of which can be directed and controlled if we choose to pay attention.


Research shows that we are more likely to immediately (and sometimes blindly) trust people that we know, who look like us, and who have had similar experiences in life. We are also more likely to immediately (and often irrationally) distrust people who are different than we are or who we struggle to understand. Body language, tone of voice, appearance, education, personality, and leadership style also have real impacts on whether we implicitly trust someone.


While we need to be aware of these patterns and ensure that our split-second decisions do not cause harm, we also need to peel back the layers and recognize that trustworthiness is comprised of specific, measurable, and consequential components, even if we can’t always name them. When we explore these components, we can pretty easily uncover the root causes of mistrust at work (or anywhere else) and actually do something about them. We can also work to prevent mistrust from happening or accelerating by deliberately and strategically planning around the components of trustworthiness.


Reloveution’s Trust Diagnostic Tool measures what we believe are the eight core components of trustworthy people and organizations:


  1. Reliability: I do what I say I am going to do when and how I say I am going to do it. People can count on me to show up and be consistent.

  2. Credibility: I have the skills and knowledge I need to do my job well and I know what I’m talking about.

  3. Relationships: I have meaningful relationships with others and know people for who they are, not just for what they do. Others also know me beyond my role.

  4. Integrity: I do the right thing every time, even when there is pressure to do something else, when it may be inconvenient, or when it may not be in my favor. I am honest in word and action, stand up for people when necessary, and work to dismantle injustice and oppression.

  5. Lack of Ego: I act in the best interest of others rather than out of my own self-interest. I use my power and influence to benefit others rather than to boost my self-image.

  6. Compassion: I am motivated to relieve the suffering of others; I am empathetic and understanding.

  7. Authenticity: I show up as who I truly am and do not pretend to be anyone else. I do not have a separate persona for the workplace versus other places in my life.

  8. Fairness: I treat everybody equitably and fairly, and actively work to recognize and disrupt my own biases.


So, honestly—if one of your colleagues were to rate you in each of these areas, what do you think your Trust Factor would be? Where might you focus to be more trustworthy and to foster more trust on your team or with your coworkers?


Now think about your company and how these components play out on an institutional level. What would your organization’s Trust Factor be? Where does trust break down in your systems, policies, goals, physical environments, or programs? How does that impact your employees’ productivity, morale, engagement, or motivation?


Chances are, there are many places where your company has practices or infrastructure that cause, perpetuate, and exacerbate mistrust. It is therefore essential to not only focus on finding and growing trustworthy people but also on building and nurturing a trustworthy organization. Institutions must be reliable, credible, rooted in relationships, built and run with integrity, fair in word and practice, and focused on the needs of employees FIRST. This requires a mindset shift and sometimes even a strategy shift that may feel uncomfortable at first. But when we focus on building trustworthy infrastructure, we can build healthier workplaces that sustainably support emotional and psychological safety for all, while simultaneously boosting our people’s innovation, productivity, and engagement (oh and your company’s bottom line too!).


One of the trickiest parts about trust is that trustworthiness must be believed and accepted subconsciously for it to have a positive impact. Unfortunately, this means that if people perceive you or your company (even without justification) to be uncredible, unreliable, self-absorbed, dishonest, uncompassionate, unfair, or inauthentic, it does not matter how many components of trust you embody. The mere perception of untrustworthiness (whether momentary or long-term) is enough to cripple any leader or team. This is problematic because people’s perceptions and instincts are not always accurate or fair, and are often reflections of bias, prior experiences, or even hearsay coming from other workers. While difficult, we have found that companies and leaders can prevent or counteract this harmful dynamic by encouraging open communication, courageous conversations, regular feedback, and meaningful relationship building up, down, and across hierarchy.


The good news is that even though it is incredibly difficult to earn trust back once it has been lost, it is far easier to build trust when you have specific standards to improve upon. As you become more reliable, you become more trustworthy. As your company becomes more interested in its people, it becomes more trustworthy. As management improves their credibility, they become more trustworthy. And on and on.


If you know or suspect that trust is an issue in your workplace, we would love to talk to you about implementing our Trust Diagnostic Tool with your team or company. This tool can be easily integrated into your existing systems (employee engagement surveys, Culture Amp, Slack, etc.), and you can either purchase the tool on its own, OR you can take advantage of our comprehensive package which includes dissemination, analysis, and recommendations for next steps. Schedule a connection call with us to learn more!

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