Trust – Part III: Build, Destroy, Restore
This is part III in a series on trust and corporate responsibility. In part II we introduced a Model of Trust. In this segment we will explore 1) how trust is formed, 2) how it can be destroyed, and 3) what can be done to restore trust. It concludes with a client case study using the model to rebuild trust.
Model of Trust:
Trust is made up of three pillars: ability, sincerity, and history.
Our degree of trust is determined by a sum of these pillars.
- Ability: Do they have the skill, knowledge tools to do the task
- Sincerity: Do they have the desire/interest/motivation to do the task
- History: Do they have a history/pattern of doing the task
How do we build trust?
Trust is formed in relationships as we build up our knowledge, awareness, and experience of each other along these three pillars of trust and assign a level of trust accordingly. This is a gradual process. Think back to when you were young. How did your parents instill trust in you? We tried things we didn’t know. Sometimes we succeeded, other times we didn’t. In this nurturing environment each failure was a learning experience and we grew from them along with adding to our abilities and experience. This is the way our parents taught us how to be trust worthy – slowly and incrementally.
How do you learn to trust? Through demonstrating skill, sharing intention, and building a history or experience we build trust. If skill is lacking, it can be learned, taught. If sincerity is lacking it can be inspired, nurtured, or motivated. If history is lacking, patience, time, and repetition can be utilized.
Remember we all started at zero on all three pillars.
How do we destroy trust?
It is easy to lose credibility and trust. We do so by failing in one or more of the three pillars of trust.
- Failure in Ability: Showing up without the skills. Being incapable of doing what you say.
- Failure in Sincerity: Acting differently than we speak. Contradicting behaviors. Lies.
- Failure in History: Repeated demonstration of acts/behavior that contradict sincerity and/or ability.
So then, How is trust restored?
Restoring trust is not so easy and it requires a commitment to change, commitment to the process, and time, sometimes a lot of time. Even then, trust is subjective and each person has a different threshold for what they are willing to accept and boundaries they will not cross.
A blessing and a curse of the human condition is that as humans we are adaptable and our memories and desires fill in gaps. This can aid in the rebuilding of trust while at the same time hampering or preventing failure in one of the pillars from eroding our trust. This is why when someone we love or loves us fails to do something (ex. lies to us, doesn’t put the dishes away as stated) we often still trust them. The trust gets eroded not taken away. The stronger pillars bolster the failing one. Depending on the situation (trust issue) this can be good or bad.
The process of rebuilding and/or restoring trust is dependent upon where and which pillar of trust failed. (Note: sometimes the degree of failure precludes the ability to restore trust, however this tool may help in restoring trust in other areas with respect to a person or company – building a professional relationship with an ex-spouse).
Failure in Ability: The easiest pillar to shore up is probably the ability pillar. You’ll need to learn how to do what it is that you don’t know how to do. Get help, hire a consultant, learn the language, take a class, or partner up with someone who does know how. This applies equally to individuals as it does to corporations. Some of the best work in CSR these days is emerging from NGO-Corporate partnerships learning from the skills and experiences that the other has and they don’t. (For great examples read Necessary Revolution by Peter Senge)
Failure in History: Shoring up history is trickier. The longer it goes unattended, the deeper the distrust. In addition, a challenge with history is that it doesn’t go away. However, we can provide a point of demarcation once the issue is identified and address. For example “From this point forward your performance (history&ability) changed , your commitment (sincerity) level changed.” Transparency and working in the present, not in the past, are often the best tools to use in restoring or creating new history.
Failure in Sincerity: The most challenging, most hurtful, and sometimes unrecoverable pillar is a loss of sincerity. If it is an issue of sincerity then all three pillars of trust are in jeopardy. Often times, deep soul searching needs to be done and/or an attitude shift needs to occur. Who are you as an individual or company? Do you believe what you are saying and then can you do what you say? When dealing with a failure in sincerity you are talking about fundamental integrity of an individual or a company. It is about learning to walk your talk. Seek assistance from professional coaches, mentors, therapists, ministry, or family.
Applying the Trust Model in restoring trust:
The Trust Model provides a framework to view a very subjective relationship issue from a constructive objective viewpoint. The power of this trust model lies in our ability to tease apart the pillars of trust and address the specific challenge to trust, while reducing the emotional charge. It allows us to rescue the baby from the bathwater to to speak.
I was working with an executive team where the chairperson, Julie, was well liked and respected as a community leader, motivator, and meeting planner. She was losing trust, however, from members of her team because she appeared wishy-washy on the financials of the organization. One day her vice-chair, Bob, used the model to work with Julie to determine the degree of the issue, whether it could be changed, and how he might assist her.
Bob: Julie, I’ve got a delicate issue to address with you, and I am hoping our new tool on trust can assist us.
Julie: Really? I’m glad you are telling me about this, that was the purpose of sharing the model with everyone at the last meeting. Let’s walk through the model. Tell me more.
Bob: I’ve been noticing that whenever the topic of budget planning comes up it keeps getting postponed. As I have finance background, this is a topic of importance for me. This postponing makes me question things, makes me question my trust. Each time it gets postponed, it effects the history pillar.
Julie: I guess we have been sidelining the issue for a while now. We just don’t have the time.
Bob: We certainly do have a lot on our plate with all the program development and bylaw work. You have done an outstanding job inspiring, motivating, and challenging us. It is clear that you are passionate about this organization and the work we’re doing. So, the sincerity pillar in our trust relationship model is strong.
Julie: Why thank you. It is nice to hear that it is appreciated, especially coming from you. I have great respect for who you are, the work you are doing, and what you bring to the table. So, we’ve seen that my history is a little, or a lot, questionable. We’ve seen that we have a mutual passion/sincerity for this work. That then leaves ability.
Bob: You’re right and that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. What I realized this week is that I don’t know what your ability level is around budget planning. If it is strong, and then I might need to question your motivation/sincerity in postponing this planning. If it is low, budget planning can be learned. In either case, if we don’t address it, the sincerity pillar will start to be eroded by the history and ability. Can you tell me about your experience in this area.
Julie: I see, I’ve never thought of it that way. And, I think you are right. In the businesses that I’ve run I’ve always had other people prepare the budgets for me and I’ve reviewed them. I’ve never created a budget from scratch before and I find it a bit daunting. So, yeah, I guess on some level I have been putting it off. I didn’t realize the impact it might be having on my trustworthiness. Where should we go from here.
Bob: I thought that might be the case. I think I might be able to help. As this is something I am passionate about and have experience in perhaps I could either coach you through the process or I could lead the budget planning part of the meetings for you.
Julie: I wouldn’t want to add to your duties.
Bob: Part of my duties as vice-chair is to support your work and be delegated responsibilities.
Julie: If you are willing, I’d appreciate you coaching me through the process so that I can learn the ability and improve my history in this area. Thank you.
The trust model gives the conversation a framework, making it easier to deal with a potentially charged situation. It provides the relationship an ability to look at trust in a more objective manner, viewing the behavior, without attacking the person.
Next: In Part IV of this series we will explore the issue of Trust and Corporate Social Responsibility using this model as a frame of reference.
Copyright ©2009 Matthew Rochte, Opportunity Sustainability℠ – Share with attribution
Opportunity Sustainability℠ is a Midwest-based sustainability and corporate responsibility consulting firm specializing in green innovation and seeing opportunities where others see burdens. Matthew Rochte LEED AP, an experienced, operations-based sustainability consultant, working with company management to navigate and realize the opportunities in taking their company green and growing sustainably.