What if You Had a Super Power at Work?

My kids used to fantasize about which super power they’d want and the potential uses of each – flying, invisibility, super-speed… We’d theorize about which one could do the greatest good in as many challenging situations as possible.

I think we all have a super power at our disposal. It’s Trust. Exhibiting trust and being trustworthy are force multipliers when it comes to getting work done with others and through others. A little trust goes a very, very long way, whatever your starting point.

For example, when I feel I’ve earned the trust of people I respect and am entrusted by them to take on a new, high stakes project, it pumps me up. Between the boost in confidence and the sense of connection that is engendered, I’m ready to give my best effort, perhaps exceeding my own expectations because of the trust placed in me. Have you noticed in your own work how everything about a relationship flows more easily and clearly when there is mutual trust? The defining of roles and goals, discussion of risks and performance, creative endeavors, and so on can occur in the fast lane, with fewer road blocks and misunderstandings.

The trusting disposition of a leader is especially rewarded. With one recent client, his authentic, unconditional trust in a key manager inspired the manager to step up to new challenges in ways that were very valuable to the organization.

On the flip side, I’ve seen a professional’s morale and motivation take a big hit from a single gesture of distrust (even if inadvertent) or a manager’s tendency to “under-trust” – and over-suggest or micro-manage. That perceived lack of trust (even if just a perception) is costly! It becomes a source of what I’ll call interference, undermining the performance and morale of an otherwise dedicated individual.

And perhaps even worse than not expressing sufficient trust in others is any behavior you display that chips away at others’ trust in you.

Clients have shared stories with me about a boss they cannot depend on, a slippery colleague who says one thing and does another, or a staff member who sends mixed signals about their commitment and motives. At a minimum, productivity and engagement suffer; at the extreme, pervasive distrust can drive people to resign from an organization they otherwise care deeply about.

To take stock of your own relationship with trust, ask yourself these two sets of questions:

(1) Are you consistently earning trust? Are you generally reliable, honest, consistent, fair and professional – saying what you’ll do and doing what you say? Or do you give people a reason to second guess you or keep information from you? Can you find any bad habits you need to take care of that might be depleting your “trust account”? Something as simple as staying silent about your intentions (letting others make up the story) can undermine trust in you. Other common tendencies include withholding information, gossiping, springing surprises on people, and avoiding difficult conversations that need to happen. Are you inviting any distrust in these ways? If so, tackle your default behaviors and clean up your act.

(2) Are you inclined to trust others and generously express that trust when they have not given your reason to distrust? Or is it unreasonably difficult to earn your trust? And when you do encounter trust-eroding behavior, do you look for ways to contain the damage and restore trust with clear communications? We rarely control the root cause of someone’s untrustworthy actions. But we have choices around our response, which in turn influences their future behavior.

For example, to salvage an eroding level of trust you may have in someone, you can tell your colleague how his or her behavior is starting to affect you and others. You can also review assumptions and expectations, to assure alignment. You can ask questions about their intentions and their need for support. The alternative is a self-fulfilling downward cycle of expressing more distrust that engenders more distrustful behavior.

You don’t need a super hero’s cape to bring more trust into your workplace. Yet you’ll be everyone’s hero!