The Vector View on Trust: How to Build and Maintain It (Part 1 – Openness)

May 29th, 2015   •   no comments   

Recently, a number of group discussions on LinkedIn and blogs found elsewhere focused on the importance of trust within organizations, within teams, within work groups and within any work relationship. I thought it might be helpful to our readers to present the Vector View on trust as we describe it in work with our clients. The Vector View on trust will be in two parts. The first covers a description of trust and openness in Part 1 and a focus on reliability in Part 2.

Admittedly, trust is a difficult thing to describe since the concept is highly individualized. Having trust or the lack thereof, has its start in infancy. For any of you familiar with Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development (1959), the first stage is “trust vs. mistrust” and this spans the time from birth to one or two years of age. The primary caregiver is the mother and the infant decides if the parent offers a safe environment and provides for the infant’s basic needs.

Those early situations furnish a child with a basic answer to the question of “Can I trust the world?” Can the child feel safe and secure in the world or view it and the adults within it as unpredictable and unreliable? This orientation is not a black and white scenario but about a balance between the two extremes throughout life. Consistency and reliability build hope over doubt.

Although trust is a foundational value and a critical element in business relationships as well as personal ones, our focus here is business and in business organizations. Business relationships include those between a boss and subordinates, among team members or between groups, between the enterprise and customers and among any organizational member. It is possible to work effectively with people whom one does not quite trust, of course, and especially in a stable, predictable environment. It is almost never possible, however, to develop the quality of communication and cooperation needed to be fully successful in a changing, highly competitive environment without a high level of trust.

We see two requirements for building and maintaining trust in relationships:

• Openness

• Reliability

Both are often difficult to talk about with others. In fact, attempts to build or repair trust in relationships sometimes fail because people find it difficult to describe objectively the concerns they may have about the reliability or openness of others. A common understanding of what both parties mean by reliability and openness provides a base for positive, productive communication about trust issues.

OPENNESS

Openness includes giving people information you have that is relevant to them; receiving information from others with an open mind; reducing threat (whether actual or perceived) to create an environment in which people feel free to exchange information. We use the term “information” broadly here to include ideas, needs, concerns, and opinions when relevant as well as information. Openness is both a foundation on which to build trust and a requirement for fully accomplishing any goal that involves others.

To the extent that we are open with information, both in giving and receiving, we are better able to:

• make fully informed decisions

• anticipate opportunities and problems, and be prepared for them

• respond to the needs and concerns of others, as well as ensure that our own needs and concerns are responded to;

• raise “difficult” issues and effectively resolve them.

There are three key factors in developing openness in working relationships:

  1. Giving appropriate information freely to others
  2. Receiving information with an open mind
  3. Reducing threat, or the appearance of threat, to facilitate an open exchange

Giving Appropriate Information Freely To Others

Being open in communications with others does not mean, of course, telling everything you know or think to everyone you with whom you work. That can sometimes be just as damaging as withholding information others need.

The following questions are a good guide to choosing the kinds and amount of information you provide to people:

  1. What can they use? Information should be relevant to people’s needs, interests, and concerns. This means keeping in touch with of what others do, and how they do it, so that you can judge when you have information others could benefit from.
  2. What do you have a right to give? It is important to be aware of information that is confidential and information that is speculation. Do not share confidential information. You may share speculation, if you judge it appropriate, but you should identify it as such.
  3. How much is enough? Check with others to see if you are providing too much or too little. Ask them to help you set priorities.

Receiving Information with an Open Mind

Being open to input from others is fully as important as freely providing input to them. Openness in receiving information means:

  1. Listening carefully and letting people know you are listening. You should be at least as attentive to information, opinions, and ideas that differ from yours, as to those that are compatible.
  2. Put oneself in the other’s place. Try to consider information from point of view of the provider (or of others for whom it is relevant). This does not mean giving up your own viewpoint; rather, it means being able to understand several viewpoints. Even if you are firmly convinced that your viewpoint is correct, making the effort to see things from other points of view will help you better understand and present your viewpoint to others.
  3. Giving feedback. Part of receiving information is letting people know whether you acted on it, and how it turned out. This not only rewards others for having been being open with their information, but can also improve the quantity and quality of information you get in the future.

Reducing Threat, Or the Appearance of Threat, To Facilitate an Open Exchange

The most difficult situation for most people is becoming more open with people we already work with, rather than being open with new people. It usually requires overcoming old habits and sometimes, past mistrust. In such situations, it becomes important to reduce real or apparent threats inherent in being open.

Here are some of the reasons people feel threatened about providing information or support freely to others, along with some suggestions for reducing the threat.

  • Fear of losing credit for ideas. Make it a habit to credit others for ideas or information that contributed to your success. One is seldom if ever harmed by making others look good; usually, it makes you look good, too. No one loses by statements like this: “Our group has done a terrific job this month. We’re on or ahead of schedule with everything, and have a group of extremely satisfied clients. We used some ideas about project management from Jim’s group, and they’ve been very useful.”
  • Concern that others will “get ahead” of them. Focus on mutual goals, and overall organizational benefits. Be free with information and support yourself. If you carefully avoid the appearance of competing with others, they will be less likely to try to compete with you. Internal competition is usually damaging. Competitiveness is best directed toward competing with one’s own past performance, or toward the “real” competition — other organizations that are competing for your customers.
  • Fear of exposing one’s own weaknesses or failures. One very useful kind of information is that which helps you avoid problems others have encountered; unfortunately, people are often reluctant to provide such information. Care in reducing threat can help as well as taking the initiative to volunteer such information yourself. If there is a history of mistrust, it may take some time to reach the point where people are willing to share mistakes to help others.

It is vital to remember that openness works both ways:

  • to get good information, you must be willing to share information with others
  • to gain the benefits of information from others, you must be willing to openly consider their viewpoints
  • to encourage others to share information which involves some threat to them, you must be willing to take risks yourself
  • to continue to gain the benefits of others’ ideas, you must be willing to give them credit, and/or feedback on how those ideas worked for you.:

The old adage of “it takes years to build trust and only a moment to lose it” is certainly true. Once trust is lost, it is difficult if not insurmountable to restore fully. (Next: Part 2 – Reliability) ©Vector Group, Inc., 2015

Cheers,

Gary

Gary W. Craig is Managing Partner and COO for Vector Group, Inc. You may reach him at gcraig@vectorgroupinc.com. Vector Group is a global consulting firm specializing in systematic organizational diagnosis and interventions to ensure that corporate strategy, culture, and infrastructure all align to achieve breakthrough success. Please visit our website at http://www.vectorgroupinc.com or call us at (800) 566-0877.

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