The Most Important Element in the Trust Equation

Aaron became the divisional vice president of a technology firm about six months ago. He knew he was taking charge of a hot mess — his predecessor had led poorly, resulting in mediocre performance, low employee morale, and bad feelings all around.

Aaron realized early on that the foundational building block needed to begin to turn things around in the division was trust. He viewed trust as the basic DNA of high performing teams, productive employees, resilience, innovation, and all the good things that come from strong, positive leadership. For more about trust, read Arden Coaching’s blog, “Essentials of Team Performance: Trust.”

After four months, however, he felt that his team was still struggling. Aaron had made progress, but something was holding everyone back. Working with his executive coach, Aaron reviewed where he thought he was with trust. “Trust isn’t a monolithic thing” said his coach, Susan. “Trust is comprised of several components. And a tool that I find useful in my coaching is the “Trust Equation.” The Trust Equation is a conceptual formula that clearly breaks down the major components of trust:

TRUST = C (credibility) + R (reliability) + I (intimacy)
 S (self-orientation)

Reviewing each element, Aaron felt comfortable with most of the pieces:

  • Credibility: Do you demonstrate that you know what you are doing?
  • Reliability: Do you deliver on your promises?
  • Intimacy: Do people feel safe and comfortable with you?
  • Self-Orientation: Do you show that you are most concerned about your team, not yourself? (More to come in future blogs)

Intimacy, however, gave Aaron pause. “Yes, it’s kind of an odd word to use in a business setting,” Susan admitted. She noted that people tend to readily understand Credibility and Reliability and that’s where they put their emphasis. “When we think of trust, we think of Credibility and Reliability. Those are the parts people practice most.”

Intimacy is the least appreciated of the variables. And often, to improve trust, Intimacy is what needs the most work. Simply put, Intimacy means “Can I safely confide in you and share information with you? Are you a person to whom I can admit a weakness or express a concern honestly and openly — and not have it come back at me or shared with others?”

Aaron worked to increase the level of Intimacy in his Trust Equation by seeking to demonstrate to his employees that they could have important conversations with him in a confidential, secure, psychologically safe environment. He did this by making small shifts in his own behavior: allowing them to finish their full idea before jumping in to discern its merits; he made a point of sharing his own flaws transparently so they could see his humanity; he stopped talking about others’ not-so-great ideas when they weren’t there.

All these shifts gave his team a greater sense of psychological safety — a sense that they were all in this together and that they were not constantly being judged, but rather heard and able to contribute. For more about creating psychological safety, read “Leadership and Psychological Safety.”

He began seeing positive results… almost immediately!

To learn more about building trust and increasing the performance of your team, contact Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.