Looking for Trust in All the Wrong Spaces

September 28, 2015

looking for trust

Trust works.

This assertion is demonstrated in the research of The Great Place To Work Institute. Their culture surveys determine who will make their list of high-trust firms: Fortune’s 100 Best Companies To Work For. Firms listed there hugely outperform their competitors.

My concern is that they are measuring trust only in the space of the conscious-rational mind. They look at employee perceptions of the credibility, collaboration, and fairness that managers demonstrate in their decision-making. It makes rational sense that no one would choose to work for someone who lies, ignores their interests, and shows no consideration for their needs.

But isn’t this really a matter of how managers lose trust?

Trust isn’t what exists in our minds after managers have made trustworthy decisions. It must exist before then. Why else would we feel let down by bad behavior? To understand the roots of trust, we need to look at another neural space – the emotional mind.

Trust Is an Emotion, Not a Thought.

Trust exists as a set of non-conscious emotional choices built up out of the biochemistry of positive neural rewards, triggered in the right situation. Neuroscientific research demonstrates the primacy of our need for positive emotional connection with others. We seek to fulfill this need before anything else. These automatic reactions are so deeply wired into our emotional mind that, in a brain scanner, only simple graphic and text cues are required to fire our neural reward circuits when we’re:

  • Certain about what’s going on and what we feel
  • Connected to others who compliment us or consider our needs in their decisions

The level below our conscious mind – our non-conscious emotional space – is where we seek persistent, positive, emotional connections with others – and when we find them, we trust. When we trust, we open ourselves emotionally. At work, we become fully motivated. Trust frees the emotion of motivation to energize our conscious commitment to achieve.

Creating a High-Trust Space

Create a space where your employees’ emotional minds can read persistently positive social connections (which trigger trust) so employees can do what they’ve always done: motivate themselves.

It’s Easier Than You Think: The 5 C’s

1. Connect

“Manage by talking around” – get to know your employees – be friendly or at least courteous and respectful. It opens them up to trust.

2. Caring Clarity

Be clear about the work to be done and your idea of work “well done.” And when it’s “well done,“ say thanks. Meet their needs for certainty and compliments.

3. Collaborate

Tell less and ask more. Engage your employees’ minds in telling you about their work and how it can be done better. Decide with them. Meet their needs for consideration. 

4. Credibility

Keep your promises and, if you can’t, explain why in a timely fashion. Restore certainty as soon as you can.

5. Calm

In difficult situations, downshift your emotional responses so your employees will “read” a non-threatening approach to solving the problem.

The first four guidelines create a high-trust space, and the fifth allows you to rebuild it when things go badly.

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About The Author

Dr. Dalton Kehoe is the author of Mindful Management: The Neuroscience of Trust and Effective Workplace Leadership. He has been a teacher, organizational change practitioner and communications consultant for over four decades. Retired from York University after a 41-year career, Dr. Kehoe is now a Senior Scholar of Communication Studies, a top-rated seminar leader for the Schulich Executive Education Centre at York University, and President of Communicate for Life, Ltd. Mindful Management [Communicate for Life, July 2015] is currently available via Amazon.

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