Earning Trust: Not Always Straightforward
Trust is something you have to earn, or so it's often said. Yet this view of trust is an oversimplification, because several factors influence your ability to earn trust, and not all are within your control.
One factor outside your control is the other party's ability to trust. I came across a study that claims to have found that men and women differ in how they decide which strangers they can trust. Given that this study was conducted with college students—and possibly students who received course credit for participating—I'm not ready to trust that the findings apply to the rest of us.
In any case, some people enter relationships with trust as a given. These people tend to trust until circumstances indicate they shouldn't, and even then, they sometimes remain trusting. Other people are just the reverse; they enter relationships with a tendency to distrust until circumstances and the passage of time convince them otherwise.
Another factor outside your control concerns boundaries. Trust has boundaries, and where we locate those boundaries varies with the situation. Furthermore, your boundaries and mine probably differ. You might trust me to take you on a hike, but not trust me to find the bugs in your code. I might trust you to meet the deadline you agreed to, but not to drive my gorgeous red Porsche in Boston traffic (if I had a gorgeous red Porsche, which—trust me—I don't).
A third factor outside your control is the context. For example, if you're in a department that has gained a reputation as being untrustworthy, you can suffer distrust by association. If this is the case, you can still earn trust through your own actions and behavior, but it's likely to take a lot longer than if you were in a trusted department.
Fortunately, there's one factor you can control: yourself. Your pattern of behavior strongly influences whether others see you a trustworthy. This is especially the case when we're talking about trust within a team, but it also applies to the trust employees have for a leader. Actually, it applies to almost any relationship.
This pattern of behavior entails such things as listening with the intent to really hear, being open to other people's views, accepting responsibility for your mistakes, and meeting your deadlines—or letting the relevant parties know in advance if you find you can't. It also involves treating others with respect and acknowledging their efforts. And it most certainly includes exhibiting empathy, integrity, and kindness.
Of course, after earning trust, you can't rest on your reputation; you have to keep behaving in a way that justifies a continuation of that trust. Although most articles on rebuilding trust after having lost it concern personal relationships, most apply equally as well to rebuilding trust at work. But, hopefully, that's an aspect of the issue you'll never need to be concerned about.