As someone who’s established a reputation for being trustworthy, I suppose it’s not a big surprise that I was once assigned the task of writing a class titled “Building Trust.” While I’ll share a few of the insights from that never-presented class (cutbacks happen), what I hope to do is share some of the lessons from it as well as some of the trust-building behaviors I practice that help me do what I do.
Building Trust Class
The “Building Trust” class began with participants reading short scripts/scenarios. One of the scenarios read as follows:
Employee: Do you have a minute?
Manager: I’m a bit busy. Can it wait?
Employee: It’s about my schedule. I know we’re very busy right now, but…
Manager: What is it? Don’t tell me you need another day off.
Employee: Yes, I really need to take tomorrow off.
Manager: (Impatient) What’s the excuse this time? Your car again? A sick pet?
Employee: Never mind. I’ll reschedule the appointment.
The class facilitator then sought reactions from the class, asking, “How would you describe their relationship?” The expected reactions might be something like: not good, didn’t communicate, not trusting, etc. Then I had the facilitator share the following, unspoken background information about the two people in the conversation:
Manager’s unspoken background information:
The manager was working on a report that needed to be turned in early the next day. [He/She] recently coached the employee asking for the day off because of his/her poor attendance. The employee also tried to make the request at the end of the day.
Employee’s unspoken background information:
The employee has had car problems for the last week, which have caused [him/her] to call in several times. [He/She] was finally able to make an appointment to get the car fixed.
The background information changes your perceptions of the conversation, yes? The point of this exchange and a couple of others like it was to show how conversations that sound like one-time situations take on a different tone when there is a “history” of questionable behavior on the part of either party. The discussions were a way of reminding the participants that trust is not a one-time behavior or action, but rather an ongoing process.
The class also included a few other useful bits of insight:
- “Trust is the fundamental building block of human relationships. It is at the root of how we treat each other. It is a principle that governs how we perceive others and how others see us. It is a standard for how we lead and manage our businesses.”
—Building Trust at the Speed of Change, The Power of the Relationship-Based Corporation, Edward G. Marshall
- You can liken relationships to a bank account. When you work with your account, you have deposits and withdrawals. The object is to have a healthy balance. A deposit might be something like following up on a coworker’s request. A withdrawal would be the opposite: saying you will answer a question, but then never getting back to them. The key is to provide as many deposits as possible for those occasions when you will have to make an intentional withdrawal, like refusing a request due to a conflict. And ideally, you want to avoid making unintentional withdrawals, like doing something you don’t consider important but the other person does, like showing up late to a meeting.
- The “unintentional withdrawal” problem can be addressed by providing feedback to others so that they know when they’ve done something that bothers you. You can also use positive feedback to let someone know when you appreciate something they’ve done for you…it reminds them to do similar things in the future.
Another key item I shared in the class was an “individual perspective grid” (now missing, alas), which asked participants to rate on a scale of -10 to +10 how much a specific action might build or erode trust. A stranger, neighbor, or coworker who doesn’t remember or show up for an important occasion for you might not result in much trust being lost, whereas a significant other forgetting the same occasion could have a huge impact on your relationship. And once you’ve lost a great deal of trust, it can be a long time–or never before you get it back.
Building Trust as a Technical Writer
While I don’t consciously use the “relationship bank account” in my daily dealings with other people, I am a keen believer in doing what I can to make certain I am in good standing with my customers and coworkers. This includes doing a lot of little things:
- Doing what I tell someone I am going to do.
- Responding to questions promptly and accurately.
- If I can’t respond or don’t know an answer immediately, tell the individual that I’ll find out for them later…and then find that answer when I say I will.
- Responding promptly to texts, emails, and meeting requests. (It’s a major source of stress for me when others don’t do likewise).
- Sharing news/information that I know will be of interest to someone. This also includes (appropriate) memes and humor on occasion.
- Admit when I’ve screwed up and accepted the consequences.
- Taking the time to get my facts right in my writing.
- Asking for constructive feedback on my writing.
- Providing constructive feedback on others’ writing.
- Don’t share private or confidential information and handle proprietary or government-sensitive information according to organizational guidelines.
- Don’t pry into conversations or information that I have no business knowing.
- If I’m not allowed to answer a question someone asks me, I explain why.
And I do my best to repeat these behaviors daily, for as long as I’m working. Simple, right?