Forgive and Forget is the way I have always heard it.  But is that the best approach when you are trying to build trust in a workplace relationship, or anywhere for that matter?

The previous example of forgiveness, taken from the tragic Nickel Mines shooting, could never be put in the “forgive and forget” category.  We need to remember events like this so we can work on preventing similar occurrences in the future.  So to with workplace situations where something is said or done that destroys trust and breaks relationships.  Forgiveness is essential to rebuild trust - but so is remembering.

I came to this conclusion years ago after reading a short, powerful book entitled Don’t Forgive Too Soon - Extending the Two Hands that Heal by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn.  It was the first time I began to understand the journey aspect of forgiveness.  I think it has great application to workplace trust.

The basic concept in the two hands of forgiveness goes like this:

The first hand says to the oppressor, “you can’t do this to me anymore”.  Visualize holding out your arm, almost pushing the other person away.  With this hand you are standing up for yourself and beginning the healing process.  This is where the remembering comes in.  You have decided to move on, to begin the journey but letting the other person know how you feel and that you value yourself enough to make sure you are not hurt the same way again.

And now the second hand.  This is the hand that invites the other person into relationship again.  This is the hand that says “you are better than this”.  Again, this is part of the journey since you have to believe that there is good in everyone. Without this belief you will never be able to truly forgive.

Using both of these hands together you begin your journey.  You have stood up for yourself but not built a wall around yourself.  There is room now to rebuild the relationship.

It has been said that holding a grudge, never forgiving, hurts us more than the person who perpetrated the initial act.  In fact, I have seen many instances of the perpetrator not even being aware that they said or did something to someone that was hurtful.  As Catherine Ponder put it:

“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel”.

And in this state there is no chance of rebuilding a relationship. In an earlier post I referenced a statement on forgiveness from Martin Luther King:

"Trust doesn’t have to be immediate, but the wrong act is no longer a barrier to a relationship. The offender endures his season of shame and is better for it. The offended are free from mean emotions like vengeance and are uplifted when they offer kindness. The social fabric is repaired. Community solidarity is strengthened by the reunion."

I believe this is what we are looking for.  King's statement could easily be seen as offering the two hands that heal.

Trust Defined

I am currently reading “The Trust Factor” by John O. Whitney. The book was published in 1994 and the management/leadership concepts contained in it are remarkably current to my way of thinking. I am working my way through the list of books I compiled when I began this journey. I decided to take them in chronological order hoping it would provide me with a better sense of how we look at trust - a foundation of sorts.

Whitney draws on a definition of trust from Webster: “Trust is the belief or confidence in the honesty, integrity, reliability and justice of another person or thing”. Random House offers: “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence”.

This got me thinking that I should explore definitions as a part of my testing the hypothesis I have about the behaviors that are necessary in trusting relationships. I am wondering how others would define trust.

Here are a few more from the dictionaries:

Oxford - “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something”

Macmillan - “a feeling of confidence in someone that shows you believe they are honest, fair, and reliable”

And, of course, Wikipedia - “a situation characterised by the following aspects: One party (trustor) is willing to rely on the actions of another party (trustee); the situation is directed to the future. In addition, the trustor (voluntarily or forcedly) abandons control over the actions performed by the trustee. As a consequence, the trustor is uncertain about the outcome of the other's actions; they can only develop and evaluate expectations. The uncertainty involves the risk of failure or harm to the trustor if the trustee will not behave as desired.”

Once again I am struck by the concept of vulnerability I noted in an early post where trust was defined as one’s willingness to be vulnerable to another group member’s actions. Each of the above definitions seem to imply the concept of vulnerability.

Is Trust an Essential Leadership Behavior?

Sweeney, et al, in Trust and Influence in Combat, are making a case for a correlation between the level of trust subordinates have in their leaders and the amount of leadership influence they will accept. Most leaders today probably accept the fact that a significant part of their role is the ability to influence others. Citing a number of authors and researchers, Sweeney, et at, conclude that the leadership literature up to 2009 would view trust as “an important outcome of leader behaviors, but not critical to the exercise of influence” (p. 240). This study, then, was designed to show that “trust is necessary and essential to the exercise of influence beyond compliance”.

I like the use of the word “compliance”. In our work we do all we can to help team leaders move the behaviors of those they lead from compliance to commitment. And, we show them how important relationships are in that endeavor. It doesn’t take much convincing for people to see this link. We have not, however, been making the case for the importance of trust in these relationships. And this is where I see my current study of trust taking me.

Back to the word “influence”. We are an authorized partner of Everything DiSC® - a new division of John Wiley & Sons. (They purchased Inscape Publishing last year). A recent Wiley book, The Work of Leaders, and a companion profile originally published by Inscape, The Work of Leaders, is based on significant research which resulted in an elegant model of the real work of leaders - crafting a Vision, building Alignment, & championing Execution. When we first introduced this model to a group of leaders running small businesses in our area, they quickly gravitated to discussing alignment. It seemed that once the vision was clear to these leaders they really struggled with turning it into something others would follow. Sound like a problem with leadership influence to you? it does to me. So, once again, this study spoke to me. I’ll end this post with one more quote; this time from page 250:

“First, and most importantly, the study found that the level of followers’ trust in a leader was highly predictive of their willingness to accept the leader’s influence regarding motivation to become better group members, strive for excellence, or improve as a person. This is an important finding because it provides empirical evidence to support the link between the trust-development process and the influence process, as hypothesized.”

And, I might add, the link between trust and alignment with a vision.

Virtual Teams: Extra Challenge

I just came across what looks to be a good resource on virtual teams. We will be leading a discussion on that topic next week and this got me thinking about the extra challenge virtual teams will bring to building trust. Since trust is all about relationships,going virtual adds a new dimension to the practice. Communication will need special attention since there are few if any visual cues in many virtual teams.

Here is the resource I found:

Mastering Virtual Teams: Strategies, Tools, and Techniques That Succeed, 3rd Edition, Revised and Expanded

Deborah L. Duarte, Nancy Tennant Snyder


The Things We Mistrust

On the cover of Trust Me, the author, William Morin, provides a list of phrases we often hear from friends and work colleagues that just don't ring true.  They seem to become the conventional wisdom of "mistrust".  How many of these do you cringe at when you hear them?

  • I'll call you
  • My door is always open
  • The check is in the mail
  • We're ust one, big, happy family
  • You can count on me
  • Looks good to me
  • It won't hurt a bit
  • I'd like to share something with you
  • I'll take care of it
  • We're in this together
  • It'll all work out
  • I'm listening
  • I'll get back to you
  • I really appreciate it
  • I know exactly how you feel
  • I won't tell anyone
  • I'll pay you back
  • You look fabulous
  • I promise
  • I love that tie
  • Stop by anytime
  • You haven't changed a bit
  • Don't worry, it's all right
  • Your secret's safe with me

What is it about our relationships with others that brings up a feeling of mistrust when we hear these words?  Have we all been burned so often? How do we change our behavior so we can be more trusting?

Of the four elements of trust I have been researching, it appears that this list is primarily made up of times when someone was not reliable or not being straightforward. This would suggest to me that one way to move foward when experiencing these situations would be to use one of the other elements as a response.  For example:

Openness - be open with your feelings when someone is not reliable and make sure that he or she is tuned in to those feelings.

Acceptance - some examples on the list may come from the other person's attempt to "be nice" and to not hurt your feelings in some way. Accepting the person for who they are could later provide an opportunity to encourage them to be more straightforward in their communication.

While the four behavioral elements of trust don't tell the complete story, they can go a long way in building a foundation for building trusting relationships in all aspects of our lives.

Digging into books on the topic of trust

I have begun collecting books that have been written on the topic of trust and I'm very surprised at how few there seem to be.  Most other subjects we follow in our work - e.g. Leadership, Engagement, Teambuilding, etc. - have hundreds, if not thousands of books to review.  Many of the concepts we have built into our training and coaching sessions have come from the works of other authors.  So why are there so few on the topic of trust?  That might be something I will discover during this journey.

Here is a list of books on my shelf in order of publication date:

1978: Trust - Jack R. Gibb

1990: Trust Me - William J. Morin

1994: The Trust Factor - John O. Whitney

1998: Building Trust: A Manager's Guide For Business Success - Mary Galbreath Shurtleff

2000: Building Trust at the Speed of Change - Edward M. Marshall

2001: Building Trust in Business, Politics, Relationships, and Life - Robert C. Solomon and Fernando Flores

2002: Building Trust: How to Get It! How to Keep It! - Hyler Bracey, PhD

2002: The Trusted Leader - Robert Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau

2003: How Could You? Kids Talk About Trust - Nancy Loewen

2006: Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace - Dennis S. Reina, PhD and Michelle L. Reina, PhD

2006: The Speed of Trust - Stephen M.R. Covey

2009: The Thin Book of Trust

2009: The Truth About Trust in Business - Vanessa Hall

2011: A slice of Trust - David Hutchens and Barry Rellaford

In addition to the books, I am collecting articles found on the web.  Not a very big bibliography so far.  I "trust" it will grow over time.  If you know of a book I have missed, or an article that would help, please let me know.

I will also post other blogs I find and have started curating with the help of Scoop It!


Starting with Respect

“Friendship- my definition- is built on two things. Respect and trust. Both elements have to be there. And it has to be mutual. You can have respect for someone, but if you don't have trust, the friendship will crumble."

(Mikael Blomkvist)” 

Stieg Larsson, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I found this quote on the Goodreads website this morning and began to think about the relationship between respect and trust. I like what Stieg Larsson is saying here since we do a lot of work with teams using the DiSC Model of Behavior and always make the point that respecting the behavioral differences found in work teams is key to enhancing team performance. Is it possible that this is also a good place to start when helping teams build trust among the team members? Obvously he is separating the two elements in this quote but I think there is a relationship.

This quote also raises the question about having friends at work. How far should you go in developing workplace friendships? For example, a CNN article titled,"Are your friends at work hurting your career", suggests caution in this regard while a more recent Fortune article takes the oposite view:

Recent research finds that people who initiate office friendships, pick up slack for their co-workers, and organize workplace social activities are 40% more likely to get a promotion in the subsequent two years. "How much you give at work directly affects how much you get at work," says Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work.

In his research, Achor divides individuals into quartiles based on how much they provide this kind of social support to colleagues. Work altruists, the top 25%, give the most, while work isolators, the bottom 25%, provide the least. Work altruists report significantly higher job satisfaction and feel 10 times more engaged by work than people in the lowest quartile.

Even before the positive psychology movement picked up on this principle, Tom Rath, in Vital Friends, used extensive data to show that having a best friend at work is strongly correlated with increased productivity, positive engagement with customers, innovation and loyalty.

So, could there be a strong link between friendship at work and workplace trust? And, does it all begin with respecting the differences in others? If so, what is the best way to help people respect each other? Once again I believe using DiSC instruments can go a long way in this regard.