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The word "trust" comes up often in the EAP office when talking with clients. Typically, the discussion is focused on the inability to trust someone. Often the trust issue is with someone that plays an important role in the individual's life: the boss; a spouse, partner, significant other; a teenage or a co-worker. Trust also occurs in degrees from never trusting someone to having a high degree of trust.

What are some characteristics of trust?

  • The ability to let others know your feelings, emotions and reactions, and having the confidence in them to respect you and to not take advantage of you.
  • Being able to share feelings and thoughts with others with the belief that they will not spread them indiscriminately.
  • Having confidence in other’s abilities to be supportive and reinforcing of you despite your weaknesses.
  • The ability to make mistakes and still be supported.
  • The internal sense of acceptance you have of others with whom you are able to share private information.
  • The sense of well being in the presence of the other person, that nothing can disrupt the bond between you and the other.
  • The ability to let others into your life so that you and they can create a relationship built on an understanding of mutual respect, caring, and concern to assist one another in growing and working together independently.

When we trust someone, either personally or professionally, we are willing to enter into a relationship with them. When trust is present we are willing to conduct ourselves differently, engage in a wider range of actions, and be more open to a variety of experiences. The degree to which we trust someone has a major bearing on the type and relationship we will form with him or her. Each of us knows many people. But our trusting relationships are typically limited to a much smaller group of individuals. We exist within a network of relationships, and the quality of these relationships determines the sense of satisfaction, achievement, enjoyment and fulfillment we give ourselves.

We learn through our experiences in both positive and negative relationships. Positive relationships provide much of the quality life offers. Much of our discontent comes from not having the relationships that are important to us. Because of past trust experiences some people find it more difficult than others to develop trusting relationships. Trust allows relationships to develop and flourish. If trust erodes, the relationship deteriorates. Doubts around trust can color our thinking about the other person, which has a negative impact on the relationship.

Some people have greater difficulty forming trusting relationships. Some reasons may include:

  • Experiencing a high degree of mental, physical or emotional abuse.
  • Having many incidences of being put down for who they are or what they believe.
  • Having been hurt in the past and unwilling to risk being hurt again.
  • Experienced the loss of a loved one through death. The individual gets so caught up in unresolved grief that they are unable to open themselves up to others, fearing they will be left alone again.
  • Having lived in an environment that was emotionally and/or physically unpredictable and volatile.
  • Experienced a great deal of pain at the hands of another.
  • Having low self-esteem and not believing that they are deserving of the attention, care, and concern of anyone.

Trust in the workplace

Having a high level of trust at work is not mandatory, but the organization can run much more effectively with it. Usually, employees are not voicing their concerns over having too much trust at work. The dynamics and personalities of the workplace provide a prime environment for the breeding of lack of trust.

Trust issues often focus on having the ability to say something to a boss or colleague without fear of reprisal. There are some ways that issues can be dealt with and trust rebuilt. A neutral employee can be designated to field anonymous feedback. This can be done face-to-face or by having employees write their concerns and place them in a box that is accessed by the neutral employee. HR can often be a resource in responding to trust issues. Sometimes an outsider can help rebuild trust. Mediation is another way to resolve issues that plague a work group.

Paul Bernthal, Ph.D. did a research survey on trust in the workplace. The top five trust-building behaviors for management according to employees are:

  • Communicates openly and honestly without distorting information.
  • Shows confidence in my abilities by treating me as a skilled, competent employee.
  • Keeps promises and commitments.
  • Listens to and values what I say even if he or she may not agree.
  • Works well with me and looks for ways in which we can help each other.

When employees viewed their co-workers it was more important for them to cooperate and to listen and value what people say.

In the same study Dr. Bernthal found that the top five trust-reducing management behaviors were:

  • Acting more concerned about his or her own welfare than anything else.
  • Sends mixed messages about his or her stand on issues
  • Avoids taking responsibility for actions [passing the buck].
  • Jumps to conclusions without checking facts first.
  • Makes excuses or blames others when things don’t work out.

When employees viewed their co-workers it was more damaging for a peer to be concerned mostly about his or her own welfare and going behind a person's back.