The following short vignette describes how trust can be easily broken. It offers insights into the various elements of trust, how we can use these elements to help us improve our relationships with others and how trust is central to our own reputation and identity.
The line manager was on leave so the CEO was asked to approve coordinator ‘A’s’ timesheet. Upon review the CEO noticed that on two days coordinator ‘A’ had written she finished at 3.30pm. The CEO knew this was incorrect because coordinator ‘A’ had been on a training program with the CEO, which finished at 4.30pm. The CEO approached coordinator ‘A’ and asked her to amend her timesheet to reflect the additional two hours. This was ‘overheard’ by coordinator ‘B’ who ‘interpreted’ that the CEO was cutting coordinator A’s work hours. A week later when the line manager had returned from leave she raised the matter with the CEO. In front of the CFO, the line manager asked the CEO why she had cut coordinator ‘A’s’ hours of work.
This was the first step in breaking trust between the CEO and the line manager. The line manager had interpreted the information given to her by coordinator ‘B’ as true i.e. ‘the CEO cut coordinator A’s hours. The line manager did not investigate, check the timesheets or talk to coordinator ‘A’ before she ‘accused’ the CEO of taking time off coordinator ‘A’s’ timesheet. The CEO felt aggrieved as she knew she had not cut the hours, she has increased the hours.
So let us look at the situation from a balcony
· Coordinator B has a long-term working relationship with the line manager
· The line manager did not intuitively think the CEO would cut hours as past behaviours by the CEO demonstrated she had worked hard to increase the salaries of all staff
· The CEO felt highly offended and angry that she had to go through all the timesheets to prove that she had increased the hours not decreased the hours on coordinator A’s timesheet
· No apology was offered by the line manager to the CEO when the CEO proved her ‘innocence’
· The CEO no longer trusted the line manager as she felt that if the line manager was prepared to accuse the CEO without evidence, how was she behaving with other staff who reported to her.
So what is trust? Trust is said to be the glue that sticks relationships together. Trust is the assessment (our opinion or judgement) we make regarding the other person. Sieler (2005) names four ingredients of trust:
· Involvement– the assessment that others are attuned to us and our concerns
· Sincerity – the assessment that others are genuine and authentic in their intentions and actions
· Competence – the assessment that others have the skills or ability to take action
· Reliability – the assessments that others are dependable and consistent
When we make an assessment regarding a person’s level of trustworthiness - this often says more about ourselves than the other person. Trust is a great opportunity for people to improve relationships by
· Realising their view of trust is just an assessment
· Acknowledging that if the person does not satisfy one aspect of trust for us, it may not make them untrustworthy in other aspects ( as per Sieler’s ingredients above)
So what happened between the CEO and the line manager? The CEO reflected, wrote and had some one-on-one coaching. She talked to the line manager about the situation to generate relevant, practical and powerful learning in relation to:
· Understanding the need to investigate before taking action
· Making the distinction between assessments ( opinion and judgements) versus assertions ( facts)
· How trust can be broken
· How reputations can be damaged due to others assessments and actions
This was not a petty story – what occurred had a large effect on the CEO and the line manager’s perception of each other’s integrity and can affect their identity. Our reputations are built on trust, which is central to our identity. For further conversations on trust contact [email protected]