16.06.2020

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them

Trust is fundamental to effective relationships. It underpins all of the relationships we have with our loved ones, family, friends, colleagues and brands. Trust is balanced on a very delicate wire and some of the most valuable connections we make in life are won and lost because of it.

In fact, our need to give and receive trust is hardwired into us. It would have been critical to life for our early predecessors, whose very survival relied on cooperation with others and knowing who could be called upon in times of serious need.

two person holding each other's hands

Over the course of time, trust has evolved and whilst we may no longer have a physical need for it, we still rely on it for our psychological safety and wellbeing.

In today’s world we require a different sort of security, and we use trust to form emotional dependencies that make us feel safe, enabling us to base our beliefs on an expectation that others will behave in a certain way.

green grass field during sunset

Using trust as a belief system makes it fragile and we all know that humans are flawed, so the truth is that the two things don’t always work brilliantly together.

Very few can say they’ve managed to dodge the pain that comes from being let down by someone they’ve respected enough to place trust in, and many will know how it feels to cause that pain to someone else.

It’s little wonder we default into self-preservation by choosing not to trust anyone until they prove they can be trusted.

The flaw with this plan is that, as far as I’m aware, there is no scientific way to prove whether or not people are trustworthy – no matter how well you think you know them. And I’ve never understood how it can ever really be something you ‘earn’ either.

As the great Ernest Hemingway once said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

I have always believed that most people are inherently good. Admittedly, there are times when I have to dig deep, but I’ve always chosen to look for good and to trust those in my life without question – until the point they prove they can’t be trusted.

yellow flowers in tilt shift lens

This isn’t a fail-safe approach. Every now and again trusting a person backfires badly and when that happens it can cause real damage. But does this give us a reason to place judgements on others because of the odd bad apple’s mistakes?

Trust isn’t just important in our personal lives, it’s critical to success and satisfaction in our professional worlds too. Arguably, with 2020 catapulting many of us from physical to virtual work spaces, trust has never been more important in our businesses.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, my team and I reluctantly left office life behind to begin our new normal – working from home. New normal took a bit of getting used to and for the first couple of weeks we muddled our way through in a sense of disbelief.

At the same time there was a certain novelty about our new working lives, and we felt almost guilty to admit that we were starting to enjoy and appreciate the benefits of working from home. We were feeling less stressed and were creating a better balance between our working and personal lives.

I’m certainly no expert when it comes to HR matters and I know things are rarely black and white (particularly for large, complex organisations), but I have been genuinely surprised by the volume of conversations I’ve recently heard about how stressed leaders have become due to a lack of trust in their employees.

Whilst I missed the physical presence of my team, never once did it occur to me that working from home would mean anything other than that. It didn’t cross my mind that they wouldn’t want to fight for the survival of our company or that they weren’t giving anything other than 110% whilst trying to juggle their own personal situations and emotions. Why should I question whether my team can be trusted to work from home? If they can’t be trusted, why would I have employed them in the first place?

So many leaders share a concern that with the sun shining and the absence of someone to monitor them, their staff may well be taking advantage of the new normal by choosing sunbathing and Netflix over their work.

I love Netflix (and sunbathing) as much as the next person, but I don’t need anyone to tell me that if I choose to ditch work in favour of a Netflix binge, it probably isn’t going to do my career any good.

scenery of grass and trees

My team are adults, and this makes them perfectly capable of making their own choices. I employ career driven people who are passionate about their work, so I’ve no reason to think they would make a choice that would put the things they love at risk.

Others are concerned about whether their staff are working each and every one of their contracted hours – yes, even those who have no choice but to be full time teachers too. I don’t have children, but even I can see that Super Woman/Man would struggle to manage that without it seriously damaging their physical and mental health.

We need and want our people to be well and we have a duty of care towards those we choose to bring into our business. Trying to be a superhero simply isn’t sustainable and having unrealistic expectations of your team is a one-way street to issues such as burn out, decreased motivation, silly mistakes and poor quality of work. I’m sure this is the last thing any of us need right now.

Professional relationships aren’t really that different to personal ones. It’s all about give, take and compromise. If you aren’t willing to make compromises or give extra support in times of need, why would you expect your staff to do the same for you?

Granted, losing time from valued team members is far from ideal, but nothing about Covid-19 is! Show your team compassion, understanding and humanity and they will do everything possible to help you and your business, whilst keeping well, feeling motivated and knowing they are valued.

There are also judgements being cast about how furloughed workers are choosing to spend their time. The furlough rules have been spelt out in no uncertain terms and I feel for anyone who is still expected to be doing ‘something’ for the business. I feel especially sorry for those who haven’t been told about these expectations, with judgements unknowingly being placed on them and their future role within the company.

I think most of us working during the pandemic have had days where we wish we had been furloughed! But in the cold light of day, furloughed workers are probably missing their routine and colleagues, will have a reduced income and are most likely questioning the future security of their job. That’s not a good place for anyone to be in, so don’t make it harder by adding to their anxieties.

Try telling them that you support however they choose to spend their furloughed time – maybe they want to train in something or volunteer. Perhaps they just need a break or want to focus on their family. Whatever they choose to do they will have their own good reasons for doing so, so who are we to judge?

Nothing is normal about 2020 but if you trust your team members, you know that they’ll naturally be thinking about work and they’ll probably be considering the future too. It’s more than likely that they’ll come back to work well rested and brimming with ideas and enthusiasm, but even if they don’t, does that mean they don’t care or is it simply that they’ve had bigger things to deal with?

We all have enough to worry about right now, so let’s not waste precious energy fretting about how our furloughed workers are spending their time whilst we are unable to cover their wages ourselves.

On a personal level, I have always had an internal battle around empathy, but not because I’ve struggled to find it.

I have always shied away from conflict and I’m always that annoying person who can see both sides of an argument (my family hate me for it!). I can’t help but feel sorry for people, even when I know I shouldn’t, and I’ve always seen this as a bit of a curse.

I’ve been told on many occasions that I’ll need to toughen up if I want to run a company. I’ve even been told that I’m ‘too nice’ to run a company. What does that even mean?! Can you really be too much of something good?

It’s only over the past couple of months that I’ve been able to see my ‘niceness’ for the gift it is and I’m the first to admit that I would have struggled during this time without it.

I’m glad that my personal belief in the power of kindness has created a work culture to be proud of. A culture rooted in trust, compassion and positive relationships. It might not be completely unique, but it’s definitely pretty special.

Trust is deemed hard to win and easy to lose, but shouldn’t it be so much more than an expectation?

There’s no doubt that it binds us together and generates positive relationships. Not everyone in the world is trustworthy, but most do their best because they are innately good people.  Let’s not forget that our staff are just people and they have lives that extend way beyond the office walls.

I still have plenty to learn about running a business, but I’m more confident now in what I’ve always believed – you can run a business and be empathetic at the same time. In fact, I believe that leaders of the future will struggle to succeed without it.

Kate x