How to Think About Trust Differently

3 minute read

The On/Off Switch

We regularly hear leaders talk about trusting others, or being trusted by them. A lot of times, the mindset comes across like a light switch—on or off. This limits our thinking about ourselves, the other person or team, the task at hand, and the situation. The challenge is, how to think about trust differently.

Instead of thinking, “Do I trust Bill?” ask yourself something far more useful. It could sound like this: “How much do I trust this person/team about this thing at this time?”

When we do this, we help ourselves access more of the information that may be in our heads, and put better definition around the squishy feelings in our chest. 

This helps us learn more from ourselves by:

  1. Getting past yes/no. While yes/no questions are useful in select situations, it’s too limiting for use with trust, since we have degrees of trust. Instead of yes/no, I like to use a 1 to 10 scale. That lines up with how I think of most things.
  2. Focusing on THIS person or group—not my brother, or neighbor, or a stranger. I can ask myself questions to get clearer on this, like “What has Bill done recently to earn my trust on this or something similar?”
  3. Keeping straight on THIS issue versus them doing brain surgery, or walking my dog, or a billion other things. I fully trust my doctor to give me medical advice, not to perform maintenance on my truck. This may also be a good time to consider using this task as a healthy risk to support your or their growth.
  4. Looking at recent events or trends, not allowing yourself to become historically biased. Just because someone had low skills at a task years ago doesn’t mean they do NOW. It’s essential I look at what’s been happening recently and factor that in.

Putting It Into Practice

These questions (and the thoughtful answers) also prepare me for any conversations that may come up. If Bill were to ask why I don’t trust him to do X, I am clearer about how I am thinking about the situation. Working through this also helps me give Bill much more useful information, like saying: “Bill, the last two times I gave you this task in the past year, there were significant problems. It’s essential before you have another go at this, that you and I sort through where you could use more training. That will help grow your skills so you’ll be ready for the next round.”

If someone has earned a high level of trust through demonstrating ownership and I have high trust in them to tackle a new assignment, I may say something like, “Sarah, you’ve shown a lot of initiative in the past six months in learning how to do A and B. You’re showing that you are ready to also do C, which will be another area to grow. You’ve earned a lot of trust with your willingness to dig in, learn, ask questions, and handle this based on how you did with A and B.

So the next time you find yourself thinking about trusting someone (or even a team), ask yourself a better question, like “how much do I trust this person/team to do this thing right now?” Your answers will help you to be clearer about how you are thinking through the situation, and will prepare you for conversations that may come up!