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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sharing Trust

@CoCreatr (Bernd Nurnberger) via @VenessaMiemis blogs about #trust.

"Being in business is basically about trust. Establishing and verifying trust, documenting it, so it can be shared, swiftly, without every business partner having to redo what led to the trust."

What I am slightly wary about here is the implication that trust can be passed around, like a parcel. I often find myself questioning the related notion that knowledge (content) can be passed around like a parcel, and I am wondering whether the same fallacy can be found in each of the five dimensions of VPEC-T.

Bernd also repeats some trust-builders and trust-destroyers that appear to originate in A Survey of Trust in the Workplace (pdf), carried out by Paul Bernthal of DDI.

Trust building behaviours:
  • Communicates with me openly and honestly, without distorting any information.
  • Shows confidence in my abilities by treating me as a skilled, competent associate.
  • Keeps promises and commitments.
  • Listens to and values what I say, even though he or she might not agree.
  • Cooperates with me and looks for ways in which we can help each other.

Trust reducing behaviours:
  • Acts more concerned about his or her own welfare than anything else.
  • Sends mixed messages so that I never know where he or she stands.
  • Avoids taking responsibility for action (“passes the buck” or “drops the ball”).
  • Jumps to conclusions without checking the facts first.
  • Makes excuses or blames others when things don’t work out (“finger-pointing”).

A commentary on this survey on the Challenge Network Forum (presumably by Oliver Sparrow) observes that fear appears to be a common factor of the trust destroyers.

"When you look over the trust-destroyers, that list sounds like the actions of people who are scared - scared of what might happen to them if they make mistakes in a company where mistakes are punished, rather than regarded as the occasional result of encouraging employees to take some initiative."

Again, I am wondering whether the same pattern of xxx-building and xxx-reducing behaviours applies to the other dimensions of VPEC-T.

There is another set of popular theories about trust, involving certain social activities (such as team-building exercises) that are supposed to promote trust. A quick internet search for "trust-building" will yield a large number of these exercises, together with companies that will happily take your money for running these exercises with you and your colleagues. Alternatively, why not just drip oxytocin into the air-conditioning?

See also Two Dimensions of Trust

Paul Bernthal, A Survey of Trust in the Workplace (pdf) (DDI, 1998)

Randy Borum, The Science of Interpersonal Trust (Mitre, 2010). Also available via Scribd.

Bernd Nurnberger, Community of practice and trust building (Feb 2012) - reposted by Venessa Miemis, 5 Trust Builders and 5 Trust Destroyers (March 2012)

Oliver Sparrow (?), Whom do we trust? (Challenge Network Forum, undated)


  1. Thank you Richard, for picking up where I left off and compiling the references. Indeed, I am also wary of "the implication that trust can be passed around, like a parcel", especially when it comes to people. It works somewhat for products, witness the plethora of approval marks on teh back of your mouse or monitor, some voluntary, some mandatory.

    As for people, I believe we all have our own ways of assessing trust, somewhat in agreement, but not quite sure how far we agree. That is one reason why trust is hard to pass around and we build anew with each new acquaintance. Some try to turn trust into a rating or a currency. I see neither way not need to do that because getting to comparable criteria is like inviting herds of cats. I change my assessments on a whim, emotional or fact-based.

    Found and re-shared: "That Something Else Better that isn't Management or Leadership "

  2. Thanks Bernd

    Not sure about the products either. Surely all the plethora of approval marks actually proves is that the supply side imagines they might work. As a consumer I discount them completely, just as I discount the obligatory but boring slide at the start of a sales presentation showing the logos of other customers. Half of them could be made-up for all I know, or care.

    For some consumers, the approval marks creates the illusion that there is some regulator looking after us. "Oh, that's a relief, they've got ISO 9001, so I don't have to worry about anything ever going wrong."

    Clearly we need to distinguish between justified trust and unjustified trust, but that's a subject for another post.