“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” ― Ernest Hemingway

In my last three conflict management training sessions I was confronted with queries about ‘trust’ or ‘lack of trust’ as a main issue and source of conflict and, when dealt with effectively, also as a form of constructive conflict management. The participants who posed the question were either staff members or managers.

In large part, the staff members were eager to know how to build trust with their managers even if they perceived them as condescending and not interested in them.
On the flip side, managers considered it crucial to learn how they could build or even re-build trust with their team members to enhance and ensure a constructive collaboration.

Lots of research has been done on trust and one could reduce the basic answer to Hemmingway’s suggestion. However, upon delving deeper into the topic of trust building, we find that research says that there are three pillars, or three prerequisites, which are necessary to build trust, which can be called ABI:

  • Ability – the actual or perceived capability and competence to build trust
  • Benevolence – the extent to which a person is believed to voluntarily do good to the other
  • Integrity – the perception that a person adheres to a set of principles considered acceptable by the other and acts consistently according to those.

So what?

How does this help our first group of staff members who wish their managers to trust in them?

They could start listening to their managers with a different set of ears when they hear their manager shouting “I need this report on my desk by tomorrow morning”. You might agree from your own experience, that they would be inclined to hear this with either their ‘appeal’-ears (“I want YOU to work on this report NOW”) or with their ‘relationship’– ears (“I don’t trust that you will complete this task without me telling you”). They also could listen to this message with their set of ‘self-disclosure’-ears (“Please listen to me, I am under extreme pressure and need your help.”). In other words, they could apply ability, benevolence and integrity toward their managers rather than expecting it from them. When we communicate a message, we almost always disclose information about ourselves. For example when shouting at someone we might disclose anger, frustration or fear about an issue, which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the receiver of the message. As the receiver you have the choice to listen differently (actively) and to reflect back what you perceived and to come from a place of curiosity and benevolence to understand what the sender of the message is really communicating to you. Sounds scary? Try it out and let us know how it goes.

On the other hand, what could managers learn from ABI in order to (re-)build trust with their team members? For less empowered team members, receiving commands and task requests keeps their lives simple and, of course, maintains all the responsibility… with you. Some managers go along with this system as it protects their privacy. They are able to keep a thick castle wall between their private lives, their past and their mistakes and the workplace. With some managers, in particular middle managers, we observed that the wall around them is so thick that they are private in public and public in private. There is a line drawn between 9 to 5 and 5 to 9.

Dear managers, if you really want to build trust, there is a time to reveal private details about you, in a way that will enhance trust, establish your brand and build the team’s competence and independence. There’s a time to show vulnerability by talking about mistakes you made and what you learned from them.
Of course, there are things that you should not reveal to anybody! As for other information, subtle revelations about you can be helpful and will establish trust within your team. Trust us.

So what do you reveal?

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By Susanne Schuler


Susanne Schuler is a qualified lawyer and an accredited mediator in the U.K., Germany and Switzerland. She has been working in the dispute resolution field since mid of 1990’s and has facilitated more than 100 mediation processes in recent years. Her clients mainly originate from the corporate world but community and divorce mediation also form part of Susanne’s dispute resolution work. Professional Background. http://www.cedr.com