If you’ve been in IT for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that our business stakeholders rarely trust us as much as we would like.
For decades, we have worked to earn their trust following all the common advice: We learn to speak “the language of business.” We get MBAs. And we include our stakeholders in as many aspects of our work as they are willing to participate in. But we make little progress.
Part of this is our fault, because we mistakenly believe that you earn trust. It’s a metaphor that fails to capture the true nature of trust and, worse, creates a false impression of how trust works.
When you earn something:
- You can possess it. It’s like an object.
- You can keep it. And if you wake up one day and it’s gone, someone must have stolen it.
- You deserve it. And if it’s not given to you after you’ve earned, it then you’re the victim of an injustice.
But trust doesn’t work this way. It’s not something that another person gives to you. It’s something that the other person feels for you. It’s a purely subjective experience that occurs in the person who trusts you.
And feelings don’t behave like objects that you earned:
- They change constantly. Someone may trust you today, mistrust you tomorrow and trust you again the following day.
- The fluctuations are not reliably predictable. They may have nothing to do with you or your behavior.
- You may or may not deserve what you get. Just because you’re trustworthy doesn’t mean that you’re trusted.
- You can’t keep it, because it was never yours in the first place. You can’t possess someone else’s subjective emotional state.
This mistaken impression triggers our outrage at the unfairness of not getting the trust we feel we deserve. But that outrage itself, communicated to our business partners, interferes with their feelings of trust. It’s a vicious cycle.
Instead, when you understand that trust is a fleeting feeling, you can work productively to create experiences for your partners that lead them to trust.
Want to learn how to build trust at work? Watch the archive of the “Building Stakeholder Trust” webinar to learn more about how to do it. Also be sure to check out more Leading Geeks topics with Paul Glen.