Leadership Skills: The Two Ways Trust Goes Wrong

Trust is a topic people can talk and write about endlessly, but the good news is that there are just a few truly important truths about it that are worth understanding and bringing into our daily practice.

The primary determinant of your ability to trust has to do with common misconceptions about our ability to trust others.

Trust is confidence. It’s a key dynamic in our minds and relationships, and it follows from clarity. What will you be, do or have, as a result, of mastering trust? What comes to my mind is freedom.

There are only two ways trust goes wrong:

  1. You can either trust too much or
  2. You can trust too little.

Checking in with yourself and organizing your thoughts about trust according to this can help you a lot.

If we want to learn how to trust just right, we have to recognize what leads us to trusting too much, and correct that, and what leads us to trusting too little, and correct that.

Trusting Too Much

When we trust too much, we get left holding the bag. We’ve all done it and we know what it feels like. The feedback is that we get burned when we’ve trusted too much.

I’ve asked thousands of people over the years, “How do you know when you’ve trusted too much?” and people generally agree that you get quick feedback when you’ve trusted too much.

The mistake most of us make is deciding that we’ll never do that again, in which case we turn to trusting too little and become very paranoid.

‘I’ll never do that again’ is an autopilot rule that is dangerous. When you’ve trusted and gotten burned and you say I’ll never trust an engineer again, I’ll never trust a brunette again, or something similar, that is one of those autopilot rules that ought to be examined a bit deeper. Is this a contextual one-time thing worth learning from, or is it really worth putting an autopilot rule in place?

Trusting Too Little

On the other hand, when you trust too little, you may never know because there isn’t much feedback to rely on.

I’ve asked, “How do you know when you’ve trusted too little?” and the answers are much more diffuse.

If you’re aware, you might see that you’re taking on too much work, redoing people’s work, or they tell you you’re not giving them enough room or smothering them.

Generally, if you trust too little, which means that you defect without extending trust, the feedback is not nearly as blatant.

If you’re not getting feedback every now and then that you’re trusting too much, you’re probably trusting too little. This is the paradox I’ve been examining for about 20 years.

Why do we trust too little? Probably because you hardly ever get in trouble for trusting too little in management situations. You can always get in trouble for trusting too much.

The way to keep your head down and stay out of trouble is to trust too little rather than to actually stick your neck out.

But when you trust too little, although you may never know it, you are playing too small a game. You are completely alone.

It takes much greater awareness and enlightenment to see the results of trusting too little because there is less feedback.

Get Started With This 5-Minute Practice Tip

If you want to learn to trust just right, err on the side of trusting too much.

The next time you have the opportunity, try trusting just a little more than you feel comfortable and watch the results unfold. The worst thing that can happen is that you are left with a feeling of having invested too much, but you might just get rewarded for your trust.

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Attend the acclaimed Creating Results-Based Teams workshop, or get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

Posted in Teamwork on 05/05/2014 01:26 am
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