Trust vs mistrust: What would you do?

Trust exercice

When I was a beginning high school counselor a student (Dorothy), who had discipline issues with several teachers, asked me if I would lend her $10.00 to buy her mother a birthday present. “What to do?”

What does trust mean to you? The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines trust as “believing in the honesty and reliability of others;” and “having confidence or faith in…” The Dictionary defines mistrust as the “lack of trust or confidence… a feeling that someone is not honest and cannot be trusted.”

Trust is the first building block of personality development according to Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development. Erikson states the first psychosocial crisis an infant faces is trust vs. mistrust. Infants, who receive stability and consistency of care, tend to develop a sense of trust which may carry them to other relationships. Harsh or unpredictable care may result in insecurity, anxiety and mistrust. Research indicate that people who experienced abusive or unloving child care practices tend to have low self-esteem, insecurity and difficulty trusting others.

Dorothy became an insecure adolescent because of abusive childhood experiences. I decided to trust that Dorothy would return the $10.00. This was an important first step in her becoming a trusting, productive adult. Dorothy returned the $10.00 within a week. Further counseling and consulting with teachers enabled Dorothy to continue positive growth. She is now a confident, trustworthy adult.

Trust plays an important role in professional relationships and organizational success. Trust elevates levels of commitment and sustains effort and productivity without the need for management control. Studies show that trust-based working relationships give organizations a competitive advantage. A leader’s level of trust is contingent upon the employee’s perceptions of the leader’s integrity, benevolence and ability.

Trust Requires Mutual Commitment

Trust is built through honesty, integrity and consistency in relationships. Although it requires mutual commitment and effort, there are several ways individuals can act on their own to initiate trust.

  • Behave consistently and predictably. Ensure that your words and subsequent actions are congruent, and honor commitments. Integrity is reinforced to the extent that you do what you say you will do.
  • Perform competently. Continuously strive to demonstrate excellence in performing your responsibilities.
  • Communicate accurately, openly and transparently. Be explicit and direct about your intentions. State what you need or expect. Don’t assume others know what to do. Tactfully air problems and seek win-win resolutions. When engaged in an ongoing project with others, communicate progress.
  • Show respect and concern for others. Demonstrate sensitivity to peoples’ needs, desires and interests. Be genuine, friendly.
  • Understand what trust means in different cultures. Get to know people better by engaging in social activities. This helps to strengthen common qualities and minimize false stereotypes.
  • Create a healthy work environment. Minimize competition and encourage cooperation and teamwork. Solicit input and share decision making. Propose joint products, services and activities that define common goals. Working toward the collective achievement of goals fosters a feeling of commonality that can strengthen a shared identity, reduce divisiveness and encourage teamwork. So does engaging in discussion and actions that build a sense of “we” rather than “me.” Recognize others’ contributions and demonstrate confidence in their abilities. Share credit.

What can you do to build trust with one associate you currently mistrust? Ask a trusted friend for feedback.

Refer to Questers Dare to Change Your Job and Life for additional suggestions on building trust:

Dr. Carole Kanchier, career and personal growth expert, is author of the award-winning, groundbreaking book, Questers Dare to Change Your Job and Life. A registered psychologist, coach, speaker, and columnist, Carole Kanchier practices in Calgary: