Internal Trust

I was struck by Nick’s most recent post on the idea of trust in our organizations and how there seems to be an inherent lack of trust. People perform certain actions to cover their own behinds, in the event that you fail to perform the task to which you have agreed. I’ve touched on the idea before, stating that we need to generally assume good faith in our interactions with each other. Nick hits the nail on the head when he says:

We need to build trust with other people. Trust is like the secret sauce and it is what is lacking in our organizations like nothing else. No one trusts anyone.

I agree that it’s a major issue, and certainly is crucial to getting stuff done in any organization (government or not). However, just like I talked about earlier about how government departments are complex adaptive systems, relationships are equally (if not more) complex. We should start working with each other under the assumption of good faith, but what’s the appropriate follow-up if that faith is broken? Too often, we go the wrong way and start to trust no one.

What we do need to explore, though, is how we handle the rebuilding of trust between people. Certainly, we’ve all been in situations (professionally and/or personally) where someone has broken our trust. Maybe it was intentional, but more than likely it was not. The issue is that if it’s intentional, at least the other party knew what they were doing (and so understand the concept of trust). If someone unintentionally breaks your trust, that has implications for what they can be trusted with in the future. If a colleague forgets to do something that has implications for my ability to carry out my job, I’m unlikely to rely on them in the future (which has implications for sharing information, etc).

So, how do we go about rebuilding trust? Often times, there is the temptation to either:

  • Simply not rely on the person at all in the future; or,
  • Assume that time will just fix things, and you’ll be able to trust the person again (without ever talking to them about what went wrong).

Almost in no cases do people actually talk about what happened, or how someone’s oversight broke your trust in them. Maybe that person failing to do their task, or provide you with needed information, prevented you from doing your job (which, in turn, has a large impact on your own relationships with your other colleagues).

They can be tough conversations. People get offended, and discussing whether or not you trust someone (with that person) can often come across as offensive and/or rude — we all like to believe that we can be trusted, and so to have someone tell you that you are not trusted is awkward at the best of times, and can lead to considerable damage to a relationship at the worst of times. We are not automatons on our professional lives — having these conversations is not ever easy.

But without those tough conversations, we end up hoping that situations will magically resolve. In our organizations, especially in government where we work largely in a knowledge economy where we need to share information and trust our colleagues more than ever, we need to make sure that not only do we start from a positions of assuming trust, but that we also have the courage to address our professional relationships if that trust is broken.




One thought on “Internal Trust

  1. Really great point about the tough conversations. If I breach your trust by accident and don’t know about it there is nothing I can do about repairing the relationship, so its our duty to inform others when we feel betrayed. If I have broken trust and do know about it I have to apologize sincerely and promptly and actively work to rebuild the trust. Too often I see organizations that are dysfunctional, because individuals don’t pay attention to the basics of inter-personal communications.

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