When we flip the safety discussion over, we find trust. When I trust you I provide the safety you need to take risks and speak your truth without fear of ridicule, rejections or retribution.

What Does Trust Mean?

I like to use the following four beliefs I learned from Esther Derby to define trust in the workplace.

  1. I believe you have the ability to do the things you say you’ll do.
  2. I believe you will do the things you agree to do  – or let me know when you need to renegotiate.
  3. I believe you have good intentions towards me.
  4. I believe that if you have an issue with me, you’ll bring it up directly with me, not talk behind my back.

Following these points makes trust building somewhat straight forward. I do what I say I’m going to do. If something happens and it looks like I won’t be able to meet my commitment, I say so. I’ll talk with you instead of talking with others about you.

Is It Always That Simple?

It can be that simple. Sometimes things get complicated when actions and information get interpreted differently. These complications often happen when we’re tired, in a hurry, don’t take time to process what’s happening here and now and resort to a “then and there” responses. “Then and there” responses come from our past and at some level remind us of the current situation. We not only respond as if the current situation exactly resembles the prior situation (it doesn’t) we can get the meta-response of “not this again!”

Here’s some ideas what to do:

  1. Count to 10. This allows you a chance to focus on a breath or two and replay what just happened.
  2. Consider how your intake preferences might be influencing what you’re feeling.
  3. Remember we’re all different.
    • I’ve had discussions where it turned out we both argued for the same point, but we used different words.
    • Different values motivate us. (see the Why Not Ask Why? sidebar )
    • We have different work styles.
    • We have different capabilities.
  4. Allow for generous interpretations. Seek to understand the other person’s view point.

Having a shared history with your team members helps generate trust. You know their capabilities and how they’ve performed so far. If a team member hasn’t performed according to their commitments people remember and judge this commitment accordingly.

If the team has recently formed, take every opportunity to learn more about your new team mates, their similarities and differences. This can happen as part of both formal (pair programming, lunch and learns) and informal (coffee breaks etc) activities.

Like safety, trust can come and go based on the context and what’s happening. You can unilaterally decide to trust a teammate. How their response fits the four beliefs determines how much you continue to trust them.