Trust. You know when you have trust; you know when you don't have trust. Yet, what is trust and how is trust usefully defined for the workplace? Can you build trust when it doesn’t exist? How do you maintain and build upon the trust you may currently have in your workplace? These are important questions for today’s rapidly changing world.
Trust forms the foundation for effective communication, employee retention, and employee motivation and contribution of discretionary energy, the extra effort that people voluntarily invest in work.
When trust exists in an organization or in a relationship, almost everything else is easier and more comfortable to achieve.
In reading about trust, I was struck by the number of definitions that purportedly describe trust in understandable ways - but don’t. According to Dr. Duane C. Tway, Jr. in his 1993 dissertation, A Construct of Trust, "There exists today, no practical construct of Trust that allows us to design and implement organizational interventions to significantly increase trust levels between people. We all think we know what Trust is from our own experience, but we don't know much about how to improve it. Why? I believe it is because we have been taught to look at Trust as if it were a single entity."
The Three Constructs of Trust
Tway defines trust as, "the state of readiness for unguarded interaction with someone or something." He developed a model of trust that includes three components. He calls trust a construct because it is "constructed" of these three components: "the capacity for trusting, the perception of competence, and the perception of intentions."
Thinking about trust as made up of the interaction and existence of these three components makes “trust” easier to understand. The capacity for trusting means that your total life experiences have developed your current capacity and willingness to risk trusting others.
The perception of competence is made up of your perception of your ability and the ability of others with whom you work to perform competently at whatever is needed in your current situation. The perception of intentions, as defined by Tway, is your perception that the actions, words, direction, mission, or decisions are motivated by mutually-serving rather than self-serving motives.
Why Trust Is Critical in a Healthy Organization
How important is building a trusting work environment? According to Tway, people have been interested in trust since Aristotle. Tway states, “Aristotle (384-322 BC), writing in the Rhetoric, suggested that Ethos, the Trust of a speaker by the listener, was based on the listener's perception of three characteristics of the speaker.
"Aristotle believed these three characteristics to be the intelligence of the speaker (correctness of opinions, or competence), the character of the speaker (reliability - a competence factor, and honesty - a measure of intentions), and the goodwill of the speaker (favorable intentions towards the listener).” I don’t think this has changed much even today.
Additional research by Tway and others shows that trust is the basis for much of the environment you want to create in your work place. Trust is the necessary precursor for:
•feeling able to rely upon a person,
•cooperating with and experiencing teamwork with a group,
•taking thoughtful risks, and
•experiencing believable communication.