I had a boss, I’ll call him, Ted. Ted was very political and used his high emotional intelligence to play all sides of every issue just to make sure he was always covered. I heard him lie by fact and omission. So clever was the man that when opinions were asked, he was able to shift positions 180 degrees before the final vote, especially if he saw the tide going against him. He bragged about accomplishments that were fantasy and made commitments he never intended to keep, while espousing values he violated on a regular basis. Ted was smart enough, polished, experienced, and a very hard worker.

Was he a pathological liar? Maybe. What I’m definite about is he wasn’t trustworthy. I avoided and separated myself from him as much as possible, despite the fact I reported to him. Ted’s lack of trustworthiness eventually caught up with him. Formal and informal references came back with phrases, “I’m not sure I can trust the guy.” People wouldn’t work for or with him for the same reason. The most harmed campaigned to “get even.” (I had my fantasies but never acted on them.) The hard work, long hours, and dedication were worthless because no one believed he would act in an honorable way. Ted became a “has been” by mid career; virtually unemployable. He was the worst boss I ever had and I learned almost everything I know about how not to gain trust from him. Here are some of those lessons.

Trust in the workplace has a lot to do with regular and honest communication, timeliness, and delivery. Do I know what is going on and the impact it will have on me and my colleagues? Don’t tell me everything’s fine when you know the ship is sinking. Are you telling the appropriate people the good news and maybe some things they may not be happy to hear but need to know? These communications tactics are enormous stress reducers, besides being trust builders. I want to know if I am I being told the same points about my performance that others are hearing behind my back during my end of year review. Or, is false courage causing my supervisor to complain or ridicule me without having the decency to be honest, even when the news might be hard to hear or even hurt. Am I guilty of these actions as well? When I say I will do something, can I be relied upon to deliver it on time and well prepared?

Trust doesn’t like blaming. If you make a mistake, I want to know you will own up to it, not point a finger, deny knowledge, or bemoan extenuating circumstances. You earn my trust when I know you’ll take the high road, even when it doesn’t make you look so smart or savvy. I want to believe you’ll help shield and defend me from the bullets and arrows of criticism and second guessing, not leave me out there, alone, on the battlefield.

It’s easier to be honorable when things are going your way or if you’ve never been really tested. But, more often than we care to admit, decisions in the workplace have an ethical component to them. Trust means you will abide by your stated values, regardless of the circumstances. It’s the surety that I can trust we’ll operate with integrity not only in good times but also hold the same value set when times are tough and decisions hard.

Many 360 instruments administered in organizations ask responders, directly and indirectly, questions about trust. I know of people who were either demoted or terminated because of negative trust scores and comments. Management and individuals are often shocked when the feedback comes back questioning their trustworthiness. I am always surprised at people’s naiveté. As in any relationship, people measure you by how you behave, not by what you preach. Mission statements, and value listings are good and necessary exercises but if they are not openly practiced, what use do they really have?

Ask yourself:

  • What would cause you to not trust a person you work for or with? Do you operate in a similar manner, yet expect trust?
  • When is it most difficult for you to trust someone? How might that mindset be useful and when is it a hindrance?
  • If building trust is a high priority, what are three things you could do in the next 90 days to prove to others you are trustworthy?

Without trust teams cannot be built or function. Collaboration is almost impossible. Energy is wasted or diverted looking to test the feeling or prove the fact. Trust gets you hired and promoted. It also is a factor in why people buy from you and return. It’s easy to lose the trust of another, very difficult to regain it. Professional trust needs to be treated with the vigilance and respect you hold your education, experience, and connections.

If trust is an issue among the members of your team, between you and your supervisor, or colleagues, maybe it is time to work on building it. It can be done, and team, group and individual coaching often helps people confront the challenge. Of course, you can always work on it yourself, but that will go on the wish or “to do” list and we all know the status of those documents.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.