Trust in the Workplace
By: Debra Hoffman, Ph.D.
Do you remember your first day of work? You were likely feeling a mixture of excitement and nervousness. You were probably asking yourself: Will I be able to do this, Who will answer my questions, Who can I trust? You bring beliefs and assumptions that inform your answers to these questions. Your life experiences at home, with friends, teachers, community members have contributed to these beliefs about yourself and others. If your past experiences were mostly positive, you likely believe that others can be trusted. But what if you have been let down by important people in your life that were supposed to protect and care for you? How will you form trusting relationships with co-workers, supervisors, and staff who report to you?
First, it can be helpful to acknowledge your beliefs and assumptions about others. If you try to ignore these beliefs, you might unfairly assume that all co-workers are out to get you, your boss is being dishonest, or your staff will not follow through with assignments. You might notice saying to yourself, No one can be trusted, so I must always have my guard up, No one will protect me if I am in danger, so I have to look out for myself, or I am better off doing the work myself because others will always mess it up. These self-statements are understandable when trying to cope with adversity. They allow you to find some control in difficult circumstances. Unfortunately, they might also create increased anxiety and make it very challenging to work in an interdependent team.
It can be useful to realize that there are multiple ways that people can be trusted1. Some people might show up to work reliably and on time every day, but not be able to resist the urge to gossip. In this case, you could probably trust them to do what they say they will do, but you might not want to share private information with them. Perhaps your boss is very competent and experienced, and can be trusted to provide helpful information, but cannot be trusted to be supportive during an emotionally painful time in your life. Over time, you can learn more about which ways certain colleagues ‘show up’ and then use this information to challenge your previous assumptions. Then, you can develop more realistic beliefs such as, It is hard to trust others, but I can gradually challenge myself to give others the benefit of the doubt more often.
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1Resick, P.a., Monson, C.M, Chard, K.M. Cognitive processing therapy for PTSD: A comprehensive manual. New York, NY; Guilford Press, 2017.
2Frazier, M.L., Fainshmidt, S., Klinger, R.L., Pezeshkan, A., & Vracheva, V. (2017). Psychological Safety: A metanalytic review and extension. Personnel Psychology, 70, 113-165.
Keith Stein |