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10 Ways to Succeed in Busting Trust

FEATUREMay5thWith so much written on trust these days, I thought it might be interesting to provide ten things that you can do that are almost guaranteed to destroy the trust of your project team, peers, and business stakeholders. Busting trust is pretty easy. As Sophocles said, “Trust dies, but mistrust blossoms.” There are lots of ways to destroy trust. For example, we might think of all the ways to build trust and then do the opposite, like being dishonest, or lacking authenticity, or if we are unwilling to communicate bad news. What follows are ten additional ways to bust trust. There are, of course, many more. These are just a few of my favorites.

  1. Gossip. Gossiping’s fun, right? It’s great to be in the center of who knows what about everything and everyone. Some people use gossip as a currency. Feed me a juicy tidbit and I’ll give you two in return. So why does gossiping bust trust? If I tell you a piece of gossip about someone, do you really think I wouldn’t tell others about you?
  2. Use humor inappropriately. Have you ever joked around during a meeting or requirements workshop, making wise cracks or being sarcastic? Have you ever told the facilitator who was trying to enforce ground rules, “What’s the matter? Don’t you have a sense of humor?” We may pride ourselves on our cleverness, but others in the meeting might feel dismissed or that their ideas are being trivialized. It’s a great way to ensure that the agenda stalls and that the meeting objectives are not reached. If you are the constant joker, join the club of trust busters.
  3. Be competitive. When we are collaborative, value others’ input, and are interested in a solution that meets the organizational goals and project objectives, we will probably not succeed in busting trust. But when we put our self-interest ahead of the team, when we don’t listen to others’ ideas, when darn it, our way is the right way and we argue our position rather than listening actively to others, we have a good shot at busting trust.
  4. Withhold information. Ah, those poker players. We all know them. They’re the ones who hold their proverbial cards close to the vest. When we withhold information or feed it to the project stakeholders on a “need to know” basis, we are not being transparent and others might well question our agenda. Have you ever known people who were master poker players in all their communications? The ones who feed you one item at a time? When we hold onto information because we know that information is power, rather than sharing information because we know that sharing information not only is power but also a key to getting projects done quickly, we are sure to win a trust-busting award.
  5. Share confidential information. Sometimes, however, there really is a need to withhold information. When we have accepted the responsibility of hearing or reading confidential information, we cannot share it and leave our integrity intact. Some people have a need to “be in the loop.” Such people ask, “Can you keep a secret?” or “If I tell you something, do you promise not to repeat it?” or “I really shouldn’t mention this but…” We need to be careful before listening to the confidential information. We want to avoid the conundrum of whether to share vital information if it means breaking our promise and therefore being out of integrity. If we’re comfortable with this dilemma, share and listen to confidential information and you will certainly bust trust.
  6. Don’t make or meet commitments. I once had a boss who never had to meet his commitments because he never would make any. Making commitments means taking a stand. However, making commitments without meeting them is a great way to lose credibility. When we stall, put off work, or simply don’t get the job done, others lose confidence in us. And we open ourselves up to micromanagement. People who are dependent on our results and have made commitments to others understandably get real nervous when the results are delayed. They’re on the hook because of their own commitments. And when nervous, they tend to hover. One of our best defenses against micromanagement is to meet our commitments—and communicate if we can’t.
  7. Be unprepared. When we don’t do our homework, we lose credibility. When we’re asked a question and have to admit that we don’t have an answer and are forced to say “I’ll get back to you on that one,” we lose credibility. Sure, saying that you’ll get an answer is better than making up an answer, but it’s no substitute for being prepared. So if we don’t anticipate questions we’re likely to be asked, and if we don’t prepare answers in advance, we will lose credibility, which is a great way to bust trust.
  8. Act inconsistently. Acting consistently is a cornerstone of building trust, so when we don’t, we can be pretty certain that people won’t trust us. Consistency is having values and matching our behavior to our values. It’s about “walking the talk.” It’s about behavior that people can count on. It’s about reliability. So when we react inconsistently, such as when we react emotionally to unexpected bad news and shoot the proverbial messenger in the process, we will be effective at busting trust.
  9. Be closed to other cultures/ethnocentric. In a nutshell ethnocentrism is the belief that my culture is better than yours. The culture in question might be organizational culture, national culture, regional culture, age, gender, religion, or a host of other cultures. When we close ourselves off to input from people who are different from us, we let them know that neither they nor their ideas are important. Not only will we bust their trust, but we will lose credibility with other team members as well.
  10. Believe that results rule. When we put results ahead of relationships, we pretty much guarantee that we’ll get those results at the expense of trust and without the collaboration and cooperation that we’ll need for long-lasting success. Getting results is fine. But getting them at the expense of others means they’ll be short-term results at best. Failure to collaborate is a great way to bust trust.

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Elizabeth Larson

Elizabeth Larson, has been the CEO for Watermark Learning as well as a consultant and advisor for Educate 360. She has over 35 years of experience in project management and business analysis. Elizabeth has co-authored five books and chapters published in four additional books, as well as articles that appear regularly in BA Times and Project Times. Elizabeth was a lead author/expert reviewer on all editions of the BABOK® Guide, as well as the several of the PMI standards. Elizabeth enjoys traveling, hiking, reading, and spending time with her 6 grandsons and 1 granddaughter.