Trust: A Matter of Perception

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I’ve heard some people say that trust at work is not given but earned.  And the literature would suggest that workplace trust is a critical factor for maintaining employee satisfaction and productivity.  After all, we can reason that we work better together when we trust one another.  However, earning trust would suggest prolonged familiarity for staff members to create.  And such luxury of time is not readily available in today’s transient workforce.  However, I contend that establishing collegial trust does not need to come from long years of knowing each other.  Instead we can build trust quickly.

Take for instance,  our confidence with particular strangers.   We will easily trust workers of public services such as law enforcement and medical emergency.   Why is that?   Well, regardless of their personal background they need  our trust for our cooperation during a dangerous situation.  And in turn, we are provided with a sense of safety and security.  Hence the context along with their position grants certain people a perceived trust.

Jim Davis, from  Utah State University Ted X Talk, explains that trustworthiness is actually the perception for the level of  integrity, ability and benevolence we grant to someone.    The key concept is that trust is a perception.  Davis gives the example of how he went skydiving with a newly acquainted instructor.   Davis describes his interpretation for the instructor’s honesty, goodness, and competency as gaining his trust and thus persuading his participation in this adventurous activity.

Likewise we can see trust perception play in the recent US election and the American people.  In this case an individual’s actions can be perceived differently leading to different levels of trust.   How else can we explain that Clinton’s supporters saw Trump’s incompetency in government but not her dishonesty.  Likewise, Trump’s advocators have confidence in his benevolence for the working class but have overlooked the integrity of his “Twitter” words.

So if trust is just a perception, what does that mean for us at work.  Well, it does give us hope.  Regardless of our position, we make many decisions.  And these actions can be misinterpreted.  So it is important for us to communicate explicitly how our actions are benevolent.  Or we need to be more firm about explaining the integrity of our decision-making.  Or we should connect how our skills and ability helped form our choices.  Assisting others translate our conduct can set a trust building environment.

I am hopeful for a more trusting world.  Even a simple conversation conveying intentions for benevolence, ability, and integrity can change another person’s feelings towards us.  If a few can start with this small step, we can possibly affect greater change in our homes and workplaces.  You might think a trusting world is impossible.  I say it’s just a matter of perception.

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