This Equation Will Help You Build Trust And Progress Your Career

This Equation Will Help You Build Trust And Progress Your Career

What do you do when something goes wrong in the workplace? Are you the person who calmly helps to steer the ship? Are you really there when people need you?

I recently witnessed a situation where a customer asked a manager a polite question about a policy. The manager replied: “I am the manager here.” Reading between the lines, the manager was stating their authority as though to say that their word was “final”, with no consideration for the customer’s perspective. This can lead to an instant loss of trust (more on this shortly).

Author Patrick Lencioni tells us, in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, that without trust, a team becomes dysfunctional; communication, collaboration and coordination are more difficult. Trust is an essential building block of healthy personal and professional relationships. It helps all parties optimise their ability to perform, innovate and be creative.

In this blog, we’re going to explore the simple equation that helps you build trust so that you can create long-lasting partnerships with peers, colleagues and stakeholders, perform at your best, and progress your career.

How to build trust

Co-authors David H. Maister, Robert M. Galford and Charles H. Green explained the trust equation (how trust is built) in their book The Trusted Advisor.

Credibility, reliability and intimacy (intimacy refers to a feeling of safety and security) must all be present for trust to exist, and there needs to be a willingness for both parties to consider the other person’s perspective (reduced self-orientation), which was clearly absent in the story we shared earlier where the manager “pulled rank”.

Let’s look at each of these variables in turn.

Credibility: When you are deemed credible, you can typically show that you are competent, capable and have the relevant credentials for the task in hand. Credibility may also relate to how much confidence you convey on the subject matter and whether or not other people believe in you.

Interestingly, when you also acknowledge what’s not within your range of expertise, you gain credibility; people will trust you more because they know that you will not make promises you cannot deliver. 

Reliability: Typically, being reliable means that you have a good track record, are consistent, and will follow through on your promises to a high standard within the agreed timescale. When you show that you are reliable, people can depend on you to perform.

Both credibility and reliability are rational forms of trustworthiness because they are reasonably objective and can be measured. However, the third and fourth components (intimacy and self-orientation) are more subjective.

Intimacy: In the context of the trust equation, intimacy means there is confidence that you will handle information respectfully and appropriately. It is harder to evaluate intimacy because it’s more feelings-based and subjective (what feels safe to one person might not feel safe to another).

Self-orientation: Even if you are highly credible, reliable, and people feel safe and secure within your working dynamic, you will undermine your trust-building efforts if you cannot flex your style of working and adapt where necessary. If your work ethos is “my way or the highway”, you will quickly lose trust. A high level of self-orientation results in a low level of trustworthiness, regardless of how well you rank on credibility, reliability and intimacy. 

When you show that you are aware of, and care about, the needs of other people as well as your own, you create a high degree of trust.

This video from Trusted Advisor Associates LLC shares a more in-depth analysis of the trust equation and why it’s important.

Trust matters more than you think

When I was a junior banker, I asked the Head of Credit, let’s call her Nancy, to authorise a deal with a client that involved substantial risk; I’d already run the numbers, but it required senior approval. The first question Nancy asked me was, “Do you trust them?”

In my mind, the “numbers were the numbers”, so I was surprised that the question of trust arose. Nancy listed a number of issues that had arisen over the years that boiled down to trust as opposed to the credibility or reliability of each individual. The upshot of our conversation was that you cannot beat human instinct when it comes to trust (which, in this sense, is far more to do with intimacy than credibility or reliability). 

What can you do to optimise trust?

Now that you know that trust relies on your credibility, reliability, intimacy and willingness to see things from different points of view, it’s important that you raise your awareness around where you are building trust, and where there might be a shortfall.

Is there a colleague, a manager or customer with whom you’d like to build trust? How might you demonstrate your expertise and trustworthiness? What do you need to see from them?

You might like to spend a few minutes making notes about how you could optimise trust to get the most out of your working dynamic and help progress your career.

How to avoid falling into “the lack of trust trap”

Anecdotally we know that one of the reasons many of our delegates struggle to build trust is that even though they are loyal and hard workers, they typically tend to focus on completing tasks rather than “proactively building or nurturing relationships”.

By taking the time to touch base with your peers, colleagues or stakeholders, you demonstrate that you’re accountable, which helps build the credibility, reliability and intimacy that are required for future projects and opportunities.

Do people trust you?

It takes time to build and earn trust, and just moments to lose it. However, it is possible to rebuild it over time if you follow the equation!

It’s worthwhile taking the time to gauge how much other people trust you; without trust, your career will likely stall. 

What are your experiences when it comes to trust? Have you ever decided to trust someone against your instinct? How did it work out? Do people naturally trust you? If so, what can you learn from that when you consider the trust equation?

Winning trust and trusting others is a fundamental part of your career progression. If you’d love to experience more of our great content to help you advance professionally or build your pipeline of female talent, check out Elevate Talent.

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