Trust plays a vital role in the success (or ultimate dysfunction or failure) of businesses and organizations. Many problems in businesses and relationships stem from trust issues. You can have trust issues between owner and employee, between employees, between departments of a practice, between competitors, and with insurance companies. In my consulting work, I find that oftentimes business relationships start out at a high level of trust and then it breaks down from there. That's probably not the best way to go about things. Better is to understand how trust is lost, how to get trust back, and how to build on trust so that your business—and employees—can thrive.
How Trust Is Broken Down
Key trust issues in organizations come from the top down. Trust is often eroded when there's not clear communication or when there aren't open lines of communication. You don t want to establish a working environment based on the premise, "I tell you what to do, and you listen and do it." The lines of communication are shut down, causing assumptions and conjecture. Even the smallest issue can take on a life of its own, far removed from the original concept.
Trust is also broken down when people are not true to their convictions and values. Sometimes people are open, but not properly. For example, if you tell someone you have limited knowledge about computers and then tell that same person how to set up his or her system, that person might not trust you. Yes, you've been open, but your motives may be questionable. That said, I do find that companies and people are generally more trustworthy when they act with intelligence and keep the governor between their brain and mouth functioning properly. In other words, think before you talk.
There are many things that help build trust in business relationships, and at the top of that list is credibility. A person can become credible based on integrity, intent, capabilities, and results. Integrity is about more than just honesty; it's about walking the talk. Intent involves your motives and agendas-are you friendly to your employees only when you need something or want to forward your own agenda, or are you more open and transparent in your dealings with your employees? Capabilities are your skills, talents, abilities, and attitudes; and results are related to outcomes—do you follow through and do what you say you are going to do?
If you have a situation where there is not trust, very often it is not about the person, it's about the process. In my consulting work, for example, I find a lot of fractionation between technicians and clinicians. A technician might tell us something like, "He's in charge of all things clinical, but he doesn't know how to cast. And then when I give him the device, he says it's terrible." Something is going on here. Both parties need to come to the table and discuss this in an open, honest manner and fix it—not with hostility, arrogance, or hidden agendas, but rather by stripping the problem down to, "How can we work together to make the best device possible that will fit the patient impeccably and will have a great outcome?" Unfortunately, however, most of these conversations start with "us versus them" because the effort to build an emotionally safe environment has not existed. Threats that have happened in the past are remembered and relived, even in the most benign situations.
Rebuilding trust is not easy. You have to set the standard of being trustworthy, and part of that is getting people to feel comfortable and safe in talking to you. Having open meetings with your people—not lectures where you sit there and tell your employees what they need to know—is essential. Of course, you have to have ground rules so your employees can tell you what they need to tell you, but they must do so with respect and kindness—up the ladder, down the ladder, and sideways.
Very few people are born leaders. You have to learn how to be a leader, manage individuals, and build teams. Part of that is having availability—no matter what. As a manager you have to decide if you want a situation where people just show up and do their jobs, or a rich environment where people share information—they're open, they're excited, they're happy about coming to work, and they take pride in the work they do. And that only comes with a foundation of trust.
Note: This article, and many concepts discussed within it, was inspired by The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey, the article "Trust Is the Lubricant of Organizational Life" by Arvind Singhal, and the principals of Six Sigma.
Joyce Perrone is a consultant for PROMISE Consulting Inc. and an administrator for De La Torre O&P Inc. She can be reached at