Trust beyond the boardroom


Trust beyond the boardroom Ethical BoardroomBy Sarah Hopwood, UK International Speaker & Business Consultant Trust



“Stop shouting at him, take him out to lunch and ask him to tell you what he told me.”
The MD just looked at me. He could see I was concerned. My remit had been to mentor a valued manager who was making odd, inappropriate client-facing mistakes. The three of us agreed on a series of one-to-one sessions over six months. What I didn’ t expect after session one was to be highly suspicious that the manager had irrational thought patterns.

Trust is a significant aspect of emotional quotient (EQ). There are five layers of trust: self, relational, organisational, market and societal. Much has been written on the subject, not surprisingly, as low levels of EQ are one of the pivotal reasons for the breakdown of relationships while abundance leads to the success of a team.

I had made a promise. Both MD and manager trusted me, knowing I would only disclose work-related information the manager chose to share. Any private information would remain private. When we give our word it should be sacred. If one is not trusted, then people won’ t share their truth, particularly if they feel vulnerable. My unexpected dilemma was that the private information was disturbing.

Emotional quotient, better known as emotional intelligence, is the art of identifying, understanding and managing your emotions and those of others and is predominantly about choosing to respond, rather than react. I needed to make sure the MD responded appropriately.

Recognising trust, testing it and, critically, knowing what to do when it is absent empowers leaders and decision-makers to achieve their objectives: to avoid loss and win. Trust breeds trust. Mistrust breeds mistrust. Motives are key. I once carried out a survey assessing client’ s automatic levels of trust when meeting someone for the first time.

The reaction?

  • Most said it was 50-50 i.e. there was a level of trust
  • Gasps were heard when the minority signaled no trust
  • The few who voted complete trust were thought naïve

What do you think? Most reading would, of course, say “it depends on the circumstances” and rightly so.

How to recognise trust

In my experience, trustworthy people are straight-talkers motivated by something bigger than one person. They confront reality, clarifying expectations while demonstrating respect. They have the ability to right wrongs; showing accountability coupled with extending trust. Trusted people keep commitments and show loyalty, transparency and deliver results.

Much of our understanding of trust will be influenced by our personal experience, especially through childhood.

Many years ago, an experiment was carried out assessing the ability of four- to five-year-olds to deny short-term pleasure in order to receive reward, i.e. delay their gratification. They were invited to either eat one marshmallow or wait a short whil e when the person would return to give them a second portion.

Those who waited blocked their ears and closed their eyes so they couldn’ t see or hear the others eating. Very similar to the self-discipline we display when we are acting in trust. Not always easy… but then, no-one has ever said it would be! The children were then followed for a number of years. It revealed those who deferred the pleasure were happier and more successful.

I wonder how the results would have weighed had they assessed each child’ s level of trust; trusting that the person with the marshmallows would return.

From a tender age, many experience a breakdown of trust, especially within the family, so why on earth would they then trust someone outside the family? Trust is a firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of someone or something. Mistrust is to be suspicious of, or have no confidence in them.

The devil is in the detail. Acts of trustworthy traits are often seen in the little, seemingly insignificant behaviours of an individual or team. What we do when no one is watching. A good benchmark is seeing how much they trust themselves – that would determine the level of trust I give them.

Signs of mistrust

Untrustworthy characters are often preoccupied with WIIFM (What’ s In It For Me). Listen or watch out for betrayals: if they are doing it to someone else, they will do it to you.

Smoke and mirrors – you may not be able to pinpoint what isn’ t right, however, your intuition will ring alarm bells. You are either consciously or unconsciously spotting incongruences.

Distraction – when someone is drawing you away from the scent. Distraction is designed to interrupt us, selling another thought or seduce us into another scene or picture; tasked to move us from this to that, shifting you away from the evidence.

A questionable circle of friends – we become the average of the top five people we spend most of our time with.

A person with secrets – most secrets should not be.

Blame culture – exhausting and expensive for everyone concerned. Mistrust in that environment is corrosive.

Inappropriate behaviour – when we break our own core values we often display inappropriate or irrational behaviour, from unexpected silence – I call it ‘ hitting mute’ – to sharing too much information.

How to test trust

  • Start by giving them responsibility for resources – you will then know if they can move on to implementation
  • Personal core values reveal where the heart is – ask them for their key words
  • Assess their locus of control – the extent they feel in control of the events that influence their life
  • Bad habits – addictions can be created quickly yet hard to break
  • Use your intuition – always test, though, you could be wrong
  • Fear can drive bad behaviour – it often comes from fatigue and loneliness
  • ‘Show me your friends and I will show you your future’ – look at who is behind the person
  • Bribery, bullying and manipulation might be the cause
  • Hear what you see – may sound odd, but listen hard

When recruiting, I use an anagram to assess trust:

  • Transparency – I believe the truth always comes out
  • Respect – how they treat themselves, subordinates & things
  • Universal – ability to see the bigger picture/diversity
  • Suspension – for me this is a great gift
  • Time smart – self-disciplined and doing what they say they will do

The rewards of trust

  • It avoids loss and our levels of influence and authority are protected
  • We develop our character, above reputation. A good reputation should be the by-product of good character
  • Cultivates wisdom without pain. Trustworthy people keep their word, avoid gossip, act right, tell the truth, they’ re generous and honest, often reaching out to help others – giving is the reflex action to right reasons and motives
  • Un-attachment. Not ‘ if I do this, you do that’ . Business should feed this trust like a muscle, keeping it exercised to stay well
  • Elimination is as important as eating. Do not associate with anyone who has a negative influence over your ability to be trustworthy

How to work with people you don’ t trust

  • Meet them where they are. Trust them at their level of trust – revealed by the way they trust others and themselves
  • Be careful about your own pride – always do what is right, even when it feels wrong. ‘ It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness’
  • Challenge behaviours and bring conversations out into the light
  • A tactic perceived, looses its value. Counter these actions with consequences! Train your brain to respond rather than react
  • Demonstrate trust. Whatever we focus on expands – even better, whatever we focus on strengthens!
  • Start them with small tasks and build levels of trust. Create new habits Building trust
  • Agree the rules of the boardroom, remembering that thoughts of suspicion increase at times of confusion or mixed messaging. Agree a mantra, or a few key words, reflecting core values
  • Get the person to gain ownership by asking them to paraphrase what has been agreed and …keep a trail. ‘ Completed Staff Work’ by Archer L Lerch is a great example as to how to ensure staff and colleagues take responsibility
  • Trusting behaviour usually breeds trusted responses and motivation. Practise suspension. This gives time for us to respond, avoiding loose judgments – stopping the typical ‘ knee-jerk’ reaction. Look behind the person – to this day I regret misjudging someone through their unreliability, anger and erratic behaviour, later learning they had health issues – hurting: riddled with fear. They died later that year
  • ‘One strike and you are out!’ In business I would rarely give someone a chance to do it again. Harsh? Maybe. Two strikes would be my maximum.

The MD did follow my advice and I released him from our contract.

About the Author:

Sarah is a UK based International Speaker & Business Consultant. As an expert in emotional intelligence she works alongside business leaders and event organisers delivering keynotes presentations, workshops and facilitation or coaching sessions – all teaching how to solve business problems using E-motion.