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The Absence of Trust: 4 Keys To Rebuild When It’s Broken

absence of trust

When it comes to team failure (or the failure of any relationship for that matter), the absence of trust is the “first domino”; all the rest of the dysfunctions—fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results—flow out of that fractured foundation.

“A man who trusts nobody is apt to be the kind of man nobody trusts.” —Harold MacMillan

In Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team, the first and most foundational team dysfunction the author cites is absence of trust.

I say all that to emphasize what we all intuitively know: Trust Matters.

Trust is foundational to all communal endeavors—whether they revolve around accomplishing an organizational objective, or making a marriage work. In the absence of trust, your team cannot succeed.

But trust is not a simple, black and white, neatly packaged concept.

It’s complex. It has many layers. The experience of trust is different for each person, and so is the absence of trust. What may compromise trust for one person may not be an issue for another. This means you can break trust without even realizing you’re doing it, or fail at repairing trust even when giving it your best.

Sounds messy, doesn’t it? Yep. That’s because it is.

So how, then, do you effectively build trust?

I think we have to begin by really understanding what trust is, and what it isn’t. Trust isn’t merely a feeling you either have or don’t have toward a person or a team; and it won’t be created by passively waiting for the feeling to return or “simply happen” over time.

In my work with clients, I define trust as “the belief in the reliability, ability, truth or strength of someone or something.” Essentially, to trust is to “believe in” someone, or, corporately speaking, to believe in your team. Trust is the belief in the reliability, ability, truth or strength of someone or something. Trust is a choice—one that involves these three elements:

  • Vulnerability
  • Risk
  • Wisdom

Authentic trust acknowledges that in almost all relationships, trust and distrust (experienced as fear, suspicion and doubt) are simultaneously present. I trust you, but I don’t trust you with everything. I believe in you, but I still have some doubts.

To actively build trust, then, you must risk extending your belief in someone beyond your current comfort level in order to give trust the opportunity to grow. This requires vulnerability and courage as you are exposing yourself to possible hurt and disappointment. But to build trust, you do it anyway, for the sake of creating new possibilities and a stronger relationship.

Having said that, in order to “risk wisely,” you need to be explicitly clear on what will build trust for you, and be able to directly communicate what you need for trust to grow, so the other person (or team) will be aware of exactly what you are asking of them.

Who do you trust? What is present in that relationship that allows your trust to thrive?