The trust equation: 6 ways to think about how and why we trust our colleagues and teams


During the Covid-19 crisis, working from home has become the new normal for those of us lucky enough to be able to keep going remotely. Distance between teams has made it more essential than ever that we build trust with our leaders, employees and peers.

But trust is complex: How do you know when you truly trust another, or have the trust of your colleagues and leaders? Gen up on the nuances of trust to help resolve any niggling feelings, and work towards a real culture of honesty, transparency and authenticity within your team or organisation.


1) Trust = happiness

Studies have shown that oxytocin (the ‘love’ hormone) specifically affects an individual’s willingness to accept social risks arising through interpersonal interactions. Bottom line: the better and more positive you feel in yourself, the more likely you are to extend trust to others. (1)

Happily, there is a truly virtuous circle at play here too, with the act of trusting someone stimulating further oxytocin production, that essential feel good hormone (2)

If your trust in others is taking a dip, ask yourself if your own feelings are playing a role, and then try to remove yourself from the equation. As founder of workplace behaviour company Hatch Analytics, Monica Parker tells everywoman: ‘As a manager, to start you should ‘assume best intentions’. Everyone really is trying their best and by cutting people a bit of slack you send an implicit message of trust.’


2) Trust = energy

Research shows that compared with people in low-trust companies, people in high-trust companies report 74% less stress and 106% more energy at work.(3)  This isn’t surprising, given that it’s common for us, when we want to win a manager’s trust, to peddle furiously to show them what a hard worker we are.

But that might not be the best approach, says Parker: ‘Resist the urge to double down on all your work activities to “prove your worth”. This will invariably lead to burnout. Instead, set healthy boundaries and ramp up your communication level, not your workload.’


3) Trust = listening

Research shows that the average person listens at only about 25% efficiency.(4) When we don’t actively listen, we miss out on all sorts of cues that help us understand – and trust – one another on a deeper level.

Harriet Beveridge, co-author of Will It Make the Boat Go Faster? tells us: ‘We tend to judge our own commitment by our intentions and feelings, but we judge other people’s commitment levels by their behaviours. As a manager, it’s important to level the playing field by formulating team rules which clearly explain what colleagues need to do or say to prove their commitment. If someone doesn’t seem sufficiently on board then consider what is driving the lack of commitment.’

Paying particular attention to what is – and what isn’t – being said is an absolute must for trust: ‘For trust to work with remote workers you need to hold honest communications on a regular basis,’ says gender pay gap consultant Michelle Gyimah. ‘Acknowledge each other’s point of view. Everyone has different priorities, but understanding what’s important to everyone helps you to see how you can get to a shared goal quicker. This can foster trust as each person feels like they’ve been listened to rather than just being told what to do/what’s happening.’


4) Trust = gratitude

Everyone likes to receive praise – it generates all those positive emotions which we’ve seen can enhance our willingness to trust. An intentional, timely display of gratitude to a colleague or team, particularly when done publically, is one of the easiest gestures a leader can make.

‘Just because we aren’t physically with people doesn’t mean we can’t still give recognition for a job well done,’ chartered occupational psychologist Lucinda Carney explains to everywoman. ‘As a manager, try to go out of your way to catch people doing things right and recognise them in some way, either in a team chat or a more formal way if you have some sort of recognition technology [showing] that your team may be out of sight but they are not out of mind.’

If you’re in a management position, says Sue Lingard, director at Cezanne HR, ‘It’s helpful to encourage everyone to play to their strengths. This can significantly contribute to company results. Give praise and share success stories. And… smile when you talk; people will appreciate it.’


5) Trust = innovation

In order to innovate, we need space to be able to fail and start over, so there’s a delicate balance to be struck between trust and acceptance that things might not work out.

‘During this time of remote working we are naturally focusing on how well all the kit is functioning,’ says Monica Parker. ‘But what is really being tested right now is cultural autonomy and psychological safety. While many businesses have had flexible working programmes to some degree, the honest truth is that the average employee isn’t trusted.

‘Psychological safety, the freedom to be our authentic selves at work, and even more importantly to be free to fail, is part and parcel with this dearth of trust. When people lack psychological safety they are more likely to cover up mistakes that occur as they fear organisational retribution. This is particularly stressful now, as remote working is when people need to feel they have been given an even greater degree of trust – especially when they haven’t been empowered to work autonomously in the past.’


6) Trust = honesty

It can be very easy for mistrust to spread. Experts theorise that it takes .07 seconds for our brains to move to a ‘threat-based interpretation’ of any uncertainty or danger, for example if someone isn’t telling us the truth, or we don’t believe their intentions.(5) Moving past this can be a challenge, especially if you’re working remotely.

‘In order to move forward both sides need to acknowledge any mistakes made that contributed to trust breakdown,’ Michelle Gyimah advises. ‘This isn’t about blame, but about honest conversations without judgement. Be clear on what you’ve learnt, because there are lessons for everyone to learn. Did you promise to complete work by a certain date knowing it was impossible? Did you give someone a project knowing full well they’d not be able to complete it? Share with each other what you learnt and what you’d do differently next time.’

Another way, Parker adds, ‘is to highlight, in a positive way, the cracks that will naturally occur in the systems being tested. Think of the philosophy of wabi-sabi (6) and the art of kintsugi (7) both of which celebrate imperfections]: identify the issues that arise in a way that honours them, not casting blame.”







(6) In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi is a world view centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Wikipedia

(7) The Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered metals. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. Wikipedia



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