TRUST, How Do We Rebuild It After A Storm

In every aspect of life, we form relationships with the people around us. Trust is always a key measurement of how strong our bond is with the people around us. Be it at work, play or even at home, trust comes in to every facet of what we do. To build trust is something that most people know how to do already but this article is not about building trust.We’re discussing today something much tougher than just building trust: Regaining lost trust.

“To err is human”, Alexander Pope (1688-1744). Making mistakes is unavoidable, even if the environment requires perfection, there is always space for error. Take for instance Nuclear Reactors. Nuclear Reactors need a perfect system to keep them going, any slight mistake may snowball into a nuclear meltdown. In every nuclear power plant, there are multiple levels of safety and the highest standards of safety are practiced. Yet with all these safety measures in place, the recent Fukushima Daiichi incident still happened.What went wrong then? Multiple reports have been written for this incident and most of them pointed to a lack of rehearsals amongst the staff in the event of a natural disaster like an earthquake. It seemed that due to the busy schedule of all the staff, it was hard to organize safety simulations for different scenarios. If mistakes can happen in a place like a Nuclear Plant, what about amongst friends or even the workplace?

When mistakes happen, working relationships may sour and trust wavers. The tricky thing about trust is that it is just so easy to lose. One little slip-up and the trust that you have built over time with your colleagues drops by quite a bit. Especially for a leader where the trust of your team is in your hands, it is inevitable that along the long and winding road of success, there will be times where you fumble. To gain back the trust of your team, there is the TRUST model: Transparency, Respect, Understanding, Small Steps, Thankfulness.

This TRUST model is encompasses 5 key concepts. Each concept will be illustrated with a brief guideline on how to achieve them.

1. Transparency. Be transparent with what you do and how you do. Make your actions accountable so that your team knows what you are up to. According to research by Dr Brad Rawlings on organizational transparency, he has highlighted three areas where transparency helps build trust:

Informational Transparency means openness. Make publically available all legally releasable information — whether positive or negative in nature — in a manner which is accurate, timely, balanced, and unequivocal. The information needs to be substantial for the parties involved. Disclosure by itself does not equal transparency; in fact some forms of disclosure can defeat the purposes of transparency.

Participatory Transparency is what separates transparency from disclosure. Transparency cannot be successful unless you know what stakeholders want and need to know. So, to ensure that the information shared is relevant and useful, stakeholders must be allowed to identify what they need to know. We need only ask and they would give.

Accountability Transparency. Transparency holds people accountable for their actions, words and decisions. Rawlins cited The Naked Corporation: If you’re going to be naked, you’d better be buff. In other words if you are going to let people see what you have, then you’d better have a good act going.

2. Respect. When something goes wrong in the workplace, tension rises and moods heat up. Gaining back control of the situation is crucial and the very first step is to calm things down. Having an abrasive attitude and nonchalant attitude will definitely not get people to respond to you. As the perpetrator or even the peace maker, we need to give each party due respect. One does not have to like a person or understand his viewpoint to accord him respect for respect is such a fundamental value. Respect comes with the belief that a person or culture can have beliefs contradictory to ours and we can still honor them.

Research on how doctors treat patients and the resultant level of trust patients in their doctors is correlated to how much respect and care they give to their patients not how technically sound they were (Thom, 2001). Even though this piece of research is on doctors and patients, for us in the organization, there is something to learn: The amount of respect you give to
your peers commands the level of trust that they may then give to you.

3. Understanding. Before trust may be regained, we have to first understand what’s going on. For without having a grip on the situation, we might unknowingly offend.We need to understand two key factors, the situation and the people:

The situation:What happened to create this situation;What were the factors that led up to this situation;What are the consequences of this situation;

The people:Who are the people involved; Who are the people we have to address;What are their beliefs (no matter how disagreeable we are to them); What are their needs.

Yourself:What went wrong to create the situation that you are in? How did you contribute to the breakdown?Where are your blind spots that have created this error?Was there an overestimation of your own abilities?

In 1950, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham created a model termed the Johari Window that helps people spot their blindspots and help create personal awareness. It creates a mental framework for us to check on all facets of us and it has prescribed some very simple steps to attain higher awareness and understanding of any situation. Completing the window will shed more light into your understanding of the situation and other people’s beliefs. It is such a simple model that most would look at it in scorn and ask why would they do something that may equate to common sense. People have various abilities to handle stress, and in a situation of distress, sometimes common sense is sent out through the window. Having a framework, particularly a simple framework helps guide a person back on track.

4. Small Steps. Trust is like a tower of coins, every coin counts.When trust is lost, the tower falls and the coins are scattered. Regaining our trust will be like building this stack of coins again where every coin counts. Some people try to compensate for their mistakes by attempting a bigger harder task to redeem themselves but this puts them at a risk of losing even more. Not to mention if the task involves a team that has lost trust in their team leader, it will be unlikely that the big task will be completed beautifully. Overpromising and under delivering leads you no where. Take it slow, one coin a time. Set small goals and take small steps. It takes people time to slowly rebuild their trust in you again.When realistic and achievable goals are set and met, trust will gradually build again. More ever under promising provides you space to over deliver.

When it comes to setting small goals, the S.M.A.R.T mnemonic developed by George T. Doran (1981) comes in handy. Respectively they are:

Specific – Be specific about the objectives that you want to achieve because the more specific your goals are, the clearer you are about them. More ever in a situation where you are trying to rebuild trust, you probably want the people around you to be clear about what you are doing as well.

Measurable – These goals need to be measurable because if it is not, the team would not know if you or they are making progress. Knowing where their progression motivates a team and motivates you.

Achievable – Setting too lofty goals will lead to utter disappointment. The goals need to be achievable and realistic for you to have credibility.

Relevant – Your goals need to be relevant to the vision of the team for it to be worthwhile both to yourself and to the time of the team.

Time-bound – Lastly it needs to be time-bound so that the team may know when to expect the achievement of each goals. Nobody likes not knowing when a task will end.

5. Thankfulness. Appreciation has to be shown to the team members that helped you. For without fear of failure, these people placed their trust in you. Even though you messed up, a little gratitude may go a long way. By showing appreciation, not only do you show people that you are apologetic for what happened, you also demonstrate humility and the willingness to correct any wrongs. Lower your pride and demonstrate thankfulness to your peers. One challenge in this is that if done insincerely, you might just get the opposite effect.

To be thankful, a GIFT may be all we need.

Gratitude – People like being appreciated for their contributions and sacrifices, especially those who helped you and those who are willing to give you a chance.

Importance – People like being given a sense of importance and knowing their role in the organization and the team. Making them feel important helps you to re-connect with the people you want to build trust in.

Fairness – Assure people that if anything went wrong, consequences are fairly dealt with and that includes yourself; If there are any rewards that are to beget after placing their trust in you again, they have to be equal and fairly distributed.

Touch – Your team needs to know that you genuinely care about them. They need to feel the connection with you and feel your sincerity.

The TRUST model may not be the only model that helps anyone rebuild lost trust yet it provides a very simple framework to rebuild what was lost. This model does not dictate a specific method to rebuild trust but it provides the key ingredients that will help foster trust within the team. Rebuilding trust is never an easy task and it takes much time and effort. We would not need this model if every one is able to survive in an environment where cooperation and a team is not needed. No man is an island, therefore trust is still vital for the survival of a
team and an organization. It is never too late to regain trust. Some people make the mistake of thinking that they will never earn back trust again but as the saying goes “its better late than never.”


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