All ye faithful
24th of December 1914, the Western front during World War I - the German and the British troops vanquish one another in a bloody fight, suffering heavy losses on both sides. Suddenly, the German soldiers, who are hidden in trenches, hear Christian carols from the other side of the field and notice little lights that they soon recognize as candles for Christmas prayers. To the shock and awe of the British side, some of the bolder German soldiers cross the battle field and join in the singing and prayers. The German wish the British a Merry Christmas in English. They were unarmed and did not have any military intentions. The same troops that had hunted down one another, killing and hurting whomever, now shake hands and celebrate the birth of Jesus together, on the battle field.
What could the explanation possibly be? As is the case of most positive human interactions, this phenomenon is attributed to trust - a concept so worn out, but yet so crucial and necessary to us all.
In order to start a conversation about trust it's imperiously necessary to break this concept down to more approachable, physical elements. The decision to trust someone or not comes as a chemical response from the brain. This message is transmitted by the brain and results in oxytocin being released in our bodies. Oxytocin is a substance associated with the willingness to offer our trust. The chain reaction works both ways: people who have been administered synthetic oxytocin (through nasal spray) have manifested exponentially more trust towards others than people who have only been administered the placebo substance. Basically, oxytocin does not plant the idea of trust in our brains; it simply reduces the fear to trust a stranger. The human brain is naturally inclined to offer trust but we intentionally choose to inhibit this impulse out of fear of disappointment, economic loss, jeopardizing our social status etc. What else does this miraculous substance do for us? It increases our ability to show empathy towards others, a quality that most trustworthy people possess. The same experiment uncovers another important fact: one of the natural inhibitors of oxytocin is stress - I feel pressured, so I become more and more reluctant towards the people around me. Good to know when to be extra-careful!
Now that we've established the neurological parameters of trust, let's focus on what it means to us on a daily basis. I can say that I trust a person when I can trust that they will do the right thing using his/her competences, strength and integrity. I feel safe around him/her, it gives me comfort. Taking this short definition into account, what do high-trust organizations look like? Compared to low-trust organizations, high-trust organizations reported: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at the workplace, 50% more productivity, 40% less burnout...do I need to go on?
There are some foolproof paths that increase our chances of gaining the trust of others and, most importantly, responsibly holding on to it through constant positive behaviors.
One of the most intuitive and basic methods involves perceived similarity. Just as in the example at the beginning of this article, I tend to trust people who are similar to me more easily: same values, preferences and even body movements. The enemy soldiers found their common ground in Christianity and the celebration of a sacred moment in their religion, a moment that traditionally involves tolerance and closeness. We are alike so I can trust you; that is why setting a common goal that everyone feels accountable for tends to boost team cohesion and increase employee performance.
Transparent communication and sincerity also create trust between people. Even if my team/organization is going through good times or bad times, informing the others on time and in an honest fashion makes me feel confident that my manager is not hiding anything from me or trying to manipulate through misinformation. People rely on predictability, on knowing the full scale of the problem and on being aware of the measures to be taken. I will prefer a manager that calls for a general meeting to let us know we have lost an important client/ the sales target has not been met/ internal procedures have changed than finding out from unreliable sources, eventually when it's already too late.
A healthy attitude towards mistakes increases the trust people grant us. After all, when we work, we sometimes make mistakes but it's essential what I choose to do after an error occurs. To look at this differently, the worst thing I can do is place blame, point the finger, and embarrass my colleague in public and so on. Instead, I can try the more constructive way of focusing on solutions rather than guilt: "OK, so this just happened. It is not the outcome we've hoped for and I know you did not wish for this to happen either. The important thing to do now is focus on solutions and what we can do to avoid this happening to us again".
Active listening and paying attention to my colleague in need: many times when we're confronted with a difficult situation - an unfair feedback at work, a fight or a bad break-up, intense stress - we feel the need to ventilate, let it all out. Moments like these carry huge emotional load, but they are crucial in bonding with others and creating meaningful relationships. However, it is hard for us when faced with an emotionally charged person to accept that our role is merely that of listener: to be silent, look them in the eye and, from time to time, ask them some follow-up questions that encourage them to further ventilate (e.g. What happened them? What did you think of that?). Our main impulse is to immediately volunteer advice, recommendations, emphasize what could have happened in a situation that has already passed. All of these reactions aggravate the person even more, not to mention that they dramatically dampen their trust in us. Most probably, they will not come looking for comfort from us a second time.
These are just a few easily implemented methods, apart from keeping our word and promises at all times, that will increase the levels of trust we receive from our colleagues. We have already established the benefits of trust at the workplace (in figures and percentages), so all we're left to do is act on it. I fully trust that we can!
by Dan Suciu
by Petra Ivașcu
by Dan Sabadis