It’s a Matter of Trust: Part One


By Doug Turner

This is the first of a seven part series exploring the concept of trust, including how it pertains to the workplace.

What Is Trust?
Most people would agree that trust is an elusive concept. Moreover, we tend to know it in the negative sense; that is, we know when we don’t have trust and can articulate that quite well.

So let’s see how some others have tried to define this elusive concept:

  • Confidence in a person or thing because of the qualities one perceives or seems to perceive in him or it.1
  • “Reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.”2
  • “Confident expectation of something; hope.”3
  • “To rely upon or place confidence in someone or something (usually fol. by in or to): to trust in another’s honesty; trusting to luck.”4
  • “To permit to remain or go somewhere or to do something without fear of consequences: He does not trust his children out of his sight.”5

As can be seen, trust means many things to many people depending on context, but the fact remains we know more about, or concentrate more on, lack of trust than we do abundance of trust.

A Fear First Focus
Our fears dictate our behaviour, the way we treat other people (personally and professionally), and how we react to given situations. If we think about it, we act in ways that belie our lack of trust dozens of times per day:

  • Why do we lock our homes when we leave?
  • Why do we put a locking bar on our car steering wheel?
  • Why do we impose and enforce arbitrary rules of behaviour on our children, like “you can’t go out on a date with someone older than you”?
  • Why do we say things like “you can’t drive the new family car until you’re more experienced”?

Fear of Failure Impacts Business
How does this lack of trust between people translate into the business world? We will see that even though we refer to “corporate reputation” and “business style” as being trusting or distrustful, we are actually dealing with people, human beings, all of the time. I have yet to see a business transaction of any size that was not done between at least two people with a pulse.

In the context of the business dealings between corporations, organizations like the International Association for Commercial and Contract Management (IACCM) have repeatedly conducted surveys to find out what features of business deals (contracts) consume the most time and effort in the negotiations. The answers have been the same for the past twelve years: the top five terms are those relating to Limitation of Liability, Indemnification, Intellectual Property, Payment, and Price Changes.6 These all deal, in various ways, with the consequences of failure. What happens if the other party doesn’t do what they are supposed to do? How can I protect myself?

Consider the following extract from an actual contract, presented by a large corporation to another large corporation, both of which had never done business with each other before, to begin negotiations toward what was hoped would be a collaborative business relationship:

“This draft document and the discussions related thereto shall not create binding obligations between the parties and any definitive agreement shall be subject to the final written approval of each party, which approval may be retained [sic] at each party’s sole discretion.”

We believe we have to protect ourselves. Note the word “protect.” From what? It doesn’t matter how likely or unlikely an imagined threat or risk is, we just need to protect ourselves from it, or make “the other guy” bear the risk or the consequences of failure. These all point to one thing. Lack of trust. Tust is what’s absent. And trust is important. “Researchers have known for years that most effective problem-solving requires a high level of trust.”7

Read Part Two—What Happens When Trust is Present—now.

Doug Turner is a leadership and executive coach at True Balance Coaching.

1 Random House Webster’s College Dictionary 1401 (1999)
4 Id.
5 Id.
6 Top Terms in Negotiation 2013/2014 Preliminary Report, March 21, 2014
7 Carlton J. Snow, Building Trust in the Workplace, 14 Hofstra Labor Law Journal 465, 520 (1997).

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