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“Trust involves the juxtaposition of people’s loftiest hopes and aspirations with their deepest worries and fears.” –Jeffrey A. Simpson

Trust is one of those terms that is casually tossed around in business conversations and management literature, yet for each and every one of us, the decision to trust someone is a deep and difficult personal decision. It grows even more complicated when we are challenged to operate as a team or develop a team.

I remember resenting the accusation leveled by our Chairman when he suggested the reason we weren’t executing our strategy effectively was because the senior management team members didn’t trust each other. He was right.

There are two possible outcomes when we choose to trust someone. We’ll either find our trust vindicated by the actions of the other party, or, we’ll be disappointed and hurt when our trust is abused. The fear of the latter for many of us overwhelms the potential for reward from the former. Roughly said, the cost of having our trust abused exceeds the potential gain from it being treated with care and respect.

While the root causes of our propensity to trust or distrust may be found in our childhood experiences with friends and family members (issues beyond my pay grade or the scope of this blog), the issue has potentially profound implications on our success as professionals. Recognizing the cost of your inability to trust may very well be the first step to adapting this limiting and potentially destructive behavior.

4 Key Areas Where Our Inability to Trust Others Hurts Us:

1. On teams. Our inability to trust others will impact our effectiveness on teams. Everyone senses when one of the team members has trust issues, and this lack of trust raises the acidity of the team environment. Others will adopt a similar stance towards the non-trusting individual, and the honest, robust communication necessary for navigating tough topics disappears.

2. With co-workers. Colleagues recognize when someone withholds trust and frankly, they resent it. While some will expend a bit of energy striving to bridge this trust gap, most will quickly recognize the futility of the effort and write off the benefits of cultivating a relationship with the trust-withholder. In a world where connections count…for knowledge, specialized information, political insights and access to resources, the person who fails to trust others loses access to these essential currencies.

3. Developing others. The need for others to constantly be in search of our never-quite-achievable trust limits our ability to do our best in support of the development of our own team members. By making them earn your trust, you risk making them tentative in their pursuit of their work…unwilling to take risks and worried about stepping over an invisible line. Your lack of trust in your team members keeps them from opening up to you on challenges and obstacles…it skews the dialog, and this defeats the intent to help people learn and grow.

4. With ourselves.  A fundamental inability to trust others reflects our own self-trust issues. We don’t have confidence in our judgment of others…thus we remain cautious and tentative…and perhaps even micro-managing. This impacts our hiring decisions and it impacts all of our interactions and our effectiveness in the workplace. Lacking the confidence to recover from an episode of trust betrayed, we hunker down in a defensive posture, leaving tremendous opportunities to strengthen, grow and support others on the table.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The cure for an inability to trust likely lies deep within the individual and I have no doubt altering this behavior is very difficult. Seek the right professional help. Don’t let this serve as your limiting factor. There’s too much good work to be done to spend your career not trusting others. And while someone will inevitably betray your trust, the cost of this is significantly less than the benefits you will accrue from extending your trust.

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