Leading with Trust

How To Tell Someone You Don’t Trust Them Without Destroying The Relationship

Addressing low trust in a relationship is a challenging issue. As soon as the “t” word—trust—is mentioned, emotions start to rise, defensiveness climbs, and people begin to feel uneasy about where the conversation is headed.

When I conduct workshops on building trust, participants often ask me for advice about how they can tell someone they don’t trust them. That’s because trust is not a topic most people are comfortable talking about, and few are equipped to handle a trust conversation in an objective, productive, and respectful way that strengthens the relationship rather than tearing it apart.

The key to addressing a lack of trust in a relationship is to not focus on trust itself, but on the behaviors causing low trust. In fact, as a general practice, I recommend trying to avoid using the “t” word completely during the trust conversation. By focusing on behaviors, you and the other person can zero in on what you can control; how you treat each other.

But how do you do that? How do you convey to someone you don’t trust them by only talking about behaviors? There are three basic steps:

  1. Diagnose which element of trust is low. Before you can even begin to discuss specific behaviors causing low trust, you have to diagnose which element of trust is being eroded. That’s because trust isn’t a one-dimensional concept. Research shows that trust is made up of four elements: competence, integrity, care, and dependability. Depending upon the context and nature of the relationship, some elements may be emphasized more than others, but all are still important and needed to some extent. For example, competence, integrity, and dependability may be more relevant in the relationship with your auto mechanic, while demonstrating care may be less so. You want to make sure the mechanic is knowledgeable about fixing your car, charges you a fair price, and completes the work on time. Although care is less important in this context, if the mechanic is rude and treats you disrespectfully, it may cause you to wonder if he/she truly has your best interests in mind and therefore erode your trust in him/her.
  2. Identify the specific behaviors causing low trust. When you feel you don’t trust someone, it’s rarely a situation where you distrust everything about the individual. It’s almost always one or two key behaviors driving the erosion of trust in the relationship. Once you’ve diagnosed which element of trust is low, you can then narrow down the behaviors causing the gap in trust. For example, let’s look at dependability. People are dependable if they behave in ways that show they are reliable, responsive, and accountable. Those kinds of behaviors look like meeting deadlines, following through on commitments, being readily available or getting back to you in a reasonable amount of time, and holding themselves accountable for the results of their commitments. If you are experiencing low trust with a colleague because he/she isn’t dependable, you’ll close the trust gap quicker and easier by getting crystal clear on the behaviors causing low trust and how you can fix them.
  3. Provide feedback on the behavior. Giving feedback to someone is a moment of trust in the relationship. It’s an opportunity to either build trust or erode it, so it’s important you approach the situation with a clear purpose and plan in mind. Once you’ve diagnosed which of the four elements of trust is being eroded, and narrowed down the specific behaviors causing that erosion, the next step is to provide feedback on those behaviors and develop a plan for strengthening them moving forward. Focus the conversation on the behaviors the person can control and change moving forward, not on general personality traits or characteristics. Resist the urge to over-generalize or soft-pedal the feedback. Be descriptive, specific, and describe the negative impact resulting from the behavior, but also assume best intentions on the part of the other person. Finally, keep the conversation focused on problem solving the troublesome behaviors and moving forward in a productive way. Using our previous example of addressing a trust gap caused by someone’s lack of dependability, the feedback might sound something like: “Sarah, we need to discuss the weekly project status reports. You’ve missed the Friday deadline the last three weeks, and as a result, the executive team has had an incomplete picture of the overall project status for their Monday meeting. I’m concerned because this isn’t normally like you. Can we talk about what’s been going on and figure out a plan to make sure we get this corrected?” In this example, without using the word trust, you’ve addressed the behaviors causing low trust with Sarah and have begun to put a plan in place to rebuild trust moving forward.

No one considers themselves to be untrustworthy, so to flat-out tell someone, “I don’t trust you,” will usually lead to damaging the relationship further and make the recovery of trust all that harder, if not impossible. But by diagnosing the elements of trust being eroded in a relationship, identifying the specific behaviors at the root of the issue, and discussing ways to address them moving forward, you can get trust back on track while preserving and growing the relationship.

Boss Doesn’t Trust You? Here Are 4 Likely Reasons Why

We’ve all probably had an instance or two when our boss hasn’t shown trust in us. I recall one situation where I was bypassed for a critical project. I felt demoralized that I wasn’t trusted enough to get the assignment. I was ticked-off at my boss’ decision and I also felt disappointed in myself for not having done enough to earn the trust of my boss so that I was the natural first choice when this project came along.

There could be dozens of reasons why your boss doesn’t trust you in a particular situation, but they all can be traced back to the ABCD’s of trust: able, believable, connected, and dependable. Research has shown these four elements comprise trust in a relationship. A fundamental truth about trust is that it’s based on perceptions, and it’s our use of trustworthy or untrustworthy behaviors that cause others to form a perception about our trustworthiness. If your boss is showing a lack of trust in you, examine the behaviors you’re using, or not using, under each of these four elements of trust to determine which element of trust is lacking.

AbleDemonstrating Competence. Being able means you possess the skills, knowledge, and expertise appropriate for your role or job. You demonstrate your competence by establishing a track record of success, consistently achieving your goals, and effectively solving problems and making good decisions. Could it be there is an element of your competence that you boss doesn’t quite trust? If so, what could you do to build your competence in that particular area?

BelievableActing with Integrity. Integrity is at the heart of trustworthiness and it’s impossible to be fully trusted without it. High integrity people are honest, tell the truth, admit their mistakes, and act in alignment with their values and those of the organization. They walk the talk. If you’ve ever cut corners, taken the easy route instead of the harder but more ethical path, or refused to take ownership of your mistakes, it may be your boss has doubts about your believability.

ConnectedCaring about Others. Trustworthy people value relationships. They care about people and act in ways that nurture those relationships. Connected people establish rapport with others by finding common ground and mutual interests. They share information about themselves and the organization in a transparent fashion, trusting others to use information wisely. Most of all, connected people are others-focused. They place the needs of others ahead of their own. When you examine your relationship with your boss, do you need to strengthen your connectedness with him or her? People trust people they like and know, and you can’t underestimate the power of a personal connection in the workplace. If there is a lack of trust with your boss in this area, explore ways to build a deeper level of connection.

DependableHonoring Commitments. Fulfilling promises, maintaining reliability, and being accountable are critical aspects of being dependable. Trustworthy people do what they say they’re going to do. They don’t shirk responsibility or hold themselves to a different (i.e., lower) standard than others. In my experience, a lack of dependability is one of the chief causes for low trust in workplace relationships. As a leader myself, I need to be able to depend on my team members to do what they say they’re going to do, when they say they’re going to do it. Even if I have a high level of trust in a person’s ability, believability, and connectedness, if I can’t depend on them to come through in crunch time, I’m not going to trust them with critically important assignments.

Every language is built upon an alphabet, and the language of trust starts with the ABCD’s: able, believable, connected, and dependable. If your relationship with your boss is lacking in any of these elements, don’t worry, you can fix it. Building trust is a skill and you can learn how to become more trustworthy. But you need a game plan.

Consider attending our upcoming virtual training session on Building Trust on May 29th. In this four-hour training (two, 2-hour virtual sessions), you’ll not only learn the framework of the ABCD Trust Model and the associated behaviors that lead to high-trust relationships, you’ll take a self-assessment to understand your strengths and growth areas in relation to the ABCD’s of trust, gain practical skills in how to have trust-building conversations, and learn a three-step model for rebuilding broken trust. Seats are limited so register now!

4 Ways Santa Is A Great Leader, And How You Can Be Too

As I have in years past, I was able to catch-up with Santa Claus for an exclusive one-on-one interview. The jolly old man was kind enough to take a break from his final preparations on Christmas Eve to answer my questions about what makes him such a great leader. During our conversation, I learned that Santa believes trustworthiness is the number one key to his success, and he builds trust through four primary ways. Below is an excerpt of our conversation.

Me: Hello Santa. It’s a pleasure to see you once again. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. I know you’re quite busy.

Santa: Hi Randy! It’s my pleasure to spend some time with you. I feel it’s the least I can do, considering all those years you spent on the “naughty” list as a child. Ha! You know I’m just pulling your leg.

Me: I love your sense of humor Santa! You of all people know how close I actually was to being on the naughty list. Thanks for the grace you showed. I know you’re busy, so let’s get right to it. What makes you such a great leader?

Santa: Well, leadership involves many things, but I would say the biggest key to my success has been being trustworthy.

Me: That’s music to my ears, Santa. You know how important I think trust is to effective leadership. Tell me more about what makes you so trustworthy.

Santa: I think there are four main things that make me trustworthy. First, it’s because I’m able. There’s a lot of moving pieces to this Santa gig, and I’ve had to develop the skills necessary to perform the job. I’ve mastered logistics, organization, sleigh-driving, reindeer development, elf management, toy production, and a host of other things. People trust me because they believe I know my stuff. And I do!

Me: No one knows santa-ing more than you, that’s for sure! What else makes you trustworthy?

Santa: A second aspect of my trustworthiness is that I’m believable. If I’m going to judge which children have been naughty and which have been nice, then I have to be above reproach myself. Nothing is more important to me than acting with integrity. I say what I mean, and I mean what I say. I’m honest, stick to my values, and walk the talk.

Me: I couldn’t agree more, Santa. When I think of you, I have full confidence that you will always do the right thing. No one ever questions your judgment because you’ve been so consistent and steady in your behavior. You said there were four things that make you trustworthy. What are the other two?

Santa: The third factor that makes me trustworthy is that I’m connected with others through caring relationships. Children around the world know that I care about them deeply. I love all children, even the ones who find themselves on the naughty list (which between you and me, there are actually very few that ever appear on that list). All the elves at the North Pole know that I care about them as well. I make it a point to learn the first name and position of every elf on my team, and I frequently walk the shop floor to chat with them and connect on a personal level. It’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job.

Me: The love you have for the children of the world is evidenced by the joy you personify and the joy you give to others. What’s the fourth element of trustworthiness?

Santa: The fourth element that makes me trustworthy is that I’m dependable. Above all, I’m counted on to deliver presents around the world on Christmas Eve. A R O U N D  T H E  W O R L D (Santa says in a slow, drawn out manner). Can you recall a Christmas where I haven’t delivered? No, you can’t. All the children are depending on me and I’d never let them down. If I say I’m going to do something, by golly, I do it!

Me: That makes perfect sense Santa. You are trustworthy because you’re able, you have the skills needed to do your job well. You’re believable because you act with integrity. You’re connected with people on a real, authentic basis. And you’re dependable; you can be counted on to do what you say you’re going to do. Now that I think about it, the first letter of those four words form the acronym ABCD. The ABCDs of trust!

Santa: That’s right! The ABCDs of trust. It’s the alphabet or language of trust, isn’t it?!

Me: It sure is! I would also argue that it’s also the language of leadership. You can’t sustain long-term, effective leadership if you aren’t trustworthy. I think you’re one of the best examples of that truth.

Santa: Thank you, Randy. I’m humbled by your compliments. It truly is a team effort between me, Mrs. Claus, and all the elves on our team. Teamwork makes the dream work! By the way, all the sports stars and coaches today stole that line from me!

Me: Ha! You’re the best Santa. I know you have to be running. You’ve got a long night ahead of you. Thanks for spending time with me.

Santa: You’re welcome! Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

The Most Important Decision Every Leader Must Make

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Leaders are faced with myriad decisions in any given day, week, month, or year. Questions such as these fill our days: What’s the right strategy for our organization? What are my most important priorities? Who is the right person for this job? How much time do we allocate to this project? How much money should we spend? Some are big, some are small. Some carry great significance; others not so much. Some days there are more decisions to make and others there are less. But one thing is constant: there are always decisions to be made.

I would argue there is one decision more important than any other you face, and the way you respond to that decision will shape the course of all the others you make. What is that decision? It’s the decision to trust.

We all have moments of trust where we can decide to move toward connecting, engaging, and trusting one another. Or we can decide to move away from one another by choosing fear, distrust, self-protection, control, or ego. Since a large degree of leadership is about accomplishing work through others, leaders must trust and depend on people at some point. It’s impossible to do everything on your own, and besides, it’s undemocratic and boring to do it all yourself!

Since trusting others is a requirement of leadership, the question then becomes, How do I know who to trust and how much to trust them?

Deciding Who to Trust

You can gauge a person’s trustworthiness by how their behavior exemplifies the ABCDs of trust.

A is for AbleDemonstrating Competence. People who possess the skills, knowledge, and expertise for their roles earn trust. Able individuals demonstrate their competence by having a track record of success. They consistently achieve their goals and can be counted on to solve problems and make good decisions.

B is BelievableActing with Integrity. Integrity is at the heart of trustworthiness and it’s impossible to be fully trusted without it. High integrity people are honest, tell the truth, admit their mistakes, and act in alignment with their values and those of the organization. They walk the talk.

C is for ConnectedCaring about Others. Trustworthy people value relationships. They care about others and act in ways that nurture those relationships. Connected people establish rapport with others by finding common ground and mutual interests. They share information about themselves and the organization in a transparent fashion, trusting others to use information wisely. Most of all, connected people are others-focused. They place the needs of others ahead of their own.

D is for DependableHonoring Commitments. Fulfilling promises, maintaining reliability, and being accountable are critical aspects of being dependable. Trustworthy individuals do what they say they’re going to do. They don’t shirk their responsibilities or hold themselves to a different (i.e., lower) standard than their teammates.

Deciding How Much to Trust

It’s important to understand you put yourself at risk when you trust another person. You run the risk of that person disappointing you, not following through, or worse case, purposely betraying or taking advantage of you. Your willingness to accept vulnerability is determined by the interplay of several variables including your personality, values, life experiences (especially early childhood), and of course, the situation at hand. Only you can determine how vulnerable you’re willing to be when extending trust.

A helpful way to consider how much to trust someone is to view the situation through what I call The Window of Trust. Based on the person’s trustworthiness (how their behavior demonstrates the ABCDs of trust), and your willingness to be vulnerable (accept risk), you can choose how wide to open your window of trust. The greater a person demonstrates trustworthiness, combined with a greater willingness to be vulnerable on your part, means the more you can open the window of trust.

The goal is not to have a wide-open window of trust for all relationships. The goal is to open it as wide as appropriate for a relationship given its specific context or situation.

All healthy relationships are based on trust. Whether it’s a short-term relationship with a vendor providing you a one-time service, or a lifetime commitment to the person you marry, you must open the window of trust as wide as possible to help the relationship reach its full potential.

4 Ways to Move From Vendor to Partner in Client Relationships

“We’re re-evaluating all of our vendor relationships.” Oomph! It felt like a punch to the gut when our client uttered those words, especially the “v” word. For several years this organization had been one of our top 5 clients, and now this new client contact was replacing our previous partner with whom we had a trusted and successful relationship. He clearly had a new strategy that didn’t involve us and was looking to move his business elsewhere. Despite our best efforts, over the course of the next 18 months our business with this client evaporated.

How did we move so quickly from being viewed as a trusted partner with this client to a vendor who could easily be replaced? It had nothing to do with the quality of our products and services, our price, or our capabilities as an organization. It had everything to do with the level of trust in the relationship with our new client contact.

We had developed an extremely high level of trust with our original sponsor. She viewed us as a trusted advisor who looked out for her best interests. She knew that our primary aim was to help her succeed, not just to sell products and services. We collaborated on projects together, learned from each other, and were vested in creating win-win solutions.

This level of commitment was reflected in the language we used when speaking about each other. She was our client – a person who uses the professional advice of another – and we were her partner – a person in a relationship where each has equal status. Our new client contact clearly viewed us as a vendor– a person who sells something.

So how you do create a relationship with your clients that transforms them from thinking of you as a vendor to one of a partner? I believe you have to build a solid foundation of trust and you do that by being:

  • Able – Competence in your role is a prerequisite for building trust with clients. Do you know the details of your products and services inside and out? Do you know the business challenges your client faces and how your organization can help them be more successful? Clients value and trust the advice of competent professionals who have a track record of success and have taken the time to thoroughly understand their needs.
  • Believable – Are you a person of integrity? Do you admit mistakes and take ownership, or do you make excuses and shift blame? Clients want partners that act ethically, responsibly, and place their needs ahead of your own. Sometimes being a person of integrity means telling the client “no.” Trusted partners are willing to be honest with their clients and advise them when they can’t provide the best solution the client needs. Trusted partners look for creative ways to help the client address their issues and find solutions to problems that may or may not involve their own products and services.
  • Connected – No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. You can be the most competent professional around, but if you don’t establish a personal connection with your clients, your efforts at building trust will be limited. Trusted partners know their clients as people, not just business associates. Get to know your clients by being genuine, authentic, and demonstrating care and concern.
  • Dependable – Simply following through on your commitments to clients goes a long way in building a trusted partnership. Maintaining reliability with clients involves having an organized approach to your work, only making promises you can keep, and doing what you say you will do. One of the quickest ways to erode trust with clients is to over-promise and under-deliver.

Trust is the key ingredient that allows you to move your client relationships from one of being a vendor to that of a trusted partner, and it starts with learning the ABCD’s of trust: Able, Believable, Connected, and Dependable.

4 Ways Leaders Can Overcome Low T (btw, it’s not just a male problem)

Feeling like a shadow of your former self? Is there a lack of emotional connection in your relationships? Do you find others not sharing important information with you or excluding you from activities? If so, you might be suffering from Low T. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Millions of well-intentioned leaders experience Low T at some point in their career. It’s a treatable condition but it requires leaders to understand the causes Low T and how to avoid them.

Causes of Low T

Trust is an essential ingredient in healthy relationships and organizations. It allows people to collaborate wholeheartedly with one another, take risks and innovate, and devote their discretionary energy to the organization. However, there are certain behaviors and characteristics of people who experience Low T in the workplace.

    • Taking credit for other people’s work
    • Not accepting responsibility
    • Being unreliable
    • Not following through on commitments
    • Lying, cheating
    • Gossiping or spreading rumors
    • Hoarding information
    • Not recognizing or rewarding good performance

Treating Low T

Reversing Low T requires understanding the four elements of trust and using behaviors that align with those elements. The four elements of trust can be represented by the acronym ABCD.

Able – Demonstrate Competence. Leaders show they are able when they have the expertise needed for their job. They consistently achieve results and facilitate work getting done in the organization. Demonstrating competence inspires others to have confidence and trust in you.

Believable – Act with Integrity. Trustworthy leaders are honest with others. They behave in a manner consistent with their stated values, apply company policies fairly, and treat people equitably. “Walking the talk” is essential in building trust in relationships.

Connected – Care About Others. Being connected means focusing on people, having good communication skills, and recognizing the contributions of others. Caring about others builds trust because people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Dependable – Honor Commitments. Dependable leaders are reliable and consistent. They respond timely to requests and hold themselves and others accountable. Not doing what you say you will do quickly erodes trust with others.

Do You Have Low T?

Think of the ABCDs as the language of trust. The more leaders focus on learning the language of trust, the more trustworthy they will become, the more trust they will earn from others, and the more our organizations will embody the ideals of trust. Download this free e-book to see if you are suffering from Low T.

Don’t Settle for Leading with Low T

Too many leaders settle for leading with Low T because they don’t understand how trust is actually formed in relationships. Trust doesn’t “just happen,” as if through some sort of relationship osmosis. Trust is built over a period of time through the intentional use of trust-forming behaviors. Good leaders focus on using trust-building behaviors and avoid using behaviors that erode trust.

We Don’t Have a Crisis of Trust – We Have a Crisis of Untrustworthy Leaders

“An Implosion of Trust”—That’s the headline of the executive summary of Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer. Their annual trust survey and report goes on to cite grim statistics about the state of trust in the world:

  • Trust in government, business, media, and NGOs declined broadly over the last year, the first time this has happened with all four institutions in the 17 years Edelman has been tracking trust.
  • Only 29% of respondents say government officials are credible and just 39% say the same about CEOs.
  • The media is distrusted in 82% of the world’s countries, and in only five (Singapore, China, India, Indonesia, and the Netherlands ) is it above 50%.
  • 85% of people lack belief in the system.

It’s enough bad news to make you want to stay in bed and pull the covers over your head, isn’t it? (Note: These statistics are measuring generalized trust in a social and institutional context. For an excellent treatment on the importance and challenge of defining trust, read this and this from trust expert Charlie Green.)

We don’t have a crisis of trust so much as we have a crisis of untrustworthy leaders. Just take a look at Fortune’s list of the world’s 19 most disappointing leaders to get a feel for how many suffered trust-related gaffes. An institution is simply a collection of individuals who act in such a way that causes their constituents to trust or distrust the organization. Leadership sets the tone for an organization’s culture and performance and it’s there we need greater accountability for leading in trustworthy ways.

But what makes a leader trustworthy? There are four key elements to being trustworthy. You can easily remember them as the ABCDs of Trust:

A is for AbleDemonstrating Competence. Leaders who possess the skills, knowledge, and expertise for their roles earn trust. Able leaders demonstrate their competence by having a track record of success. They consistently achieve their goals and can be counted on to solve problems and make good decisions.

B is BelievableActing with Integrity. Integrity is at the heart of trustworthiness and it’s impossible to be fully trusted without it. High integrity leaders are honest, tell the truth, admit their mistakes, and act in alignment with their values and those of the organization. They walk the talk.

C is for ConnectedCaring about Others. Trustworthy leaders value relationships. They care about their people and act in ways that nurture those relationships. Connected leaders establish rapport with people by finding common ground and mutual interests. They share information about themselves and the organization in a transparent fashion, trusting others to use information wisely. Most of all, connected leaders are others-focused. They place the needs of others ahead of their own.

D is for DependableHonoring Commitments. Fulfilling promises, maintaining reliability, and being accountable are critical aspects of being dependable. Trustworthy leaders do what they say they’re going to do. They don’t shirk their responsibilities or hold themselves to a different (i.e., lower) standard than their team.

Think of the ABCDs as the language of trust. The more leaders focus on learning the language of trust, the more trustworthy they will become, the more trust they will earn from others, and the more our organizations will embody the ideals of trust. Download this free e-book to see if your leaders are building or eroding trust.

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