Earlier today, I googled the word “trust.” It was a sobering experience. I was more than 20 pages into the results before meeting a single instance of trust in the sense of belief in something or someone. There were all types of financial trusts, businesses with “trust” in their names, companies eager to help you set up personal trusts, charitable trusts of every kind—but nothing about putting your trust in anything or anyone. When I did find an entry relating to trust in this common sense, it was about mistrust; a psychiatrist offering help for people whose trust had been abused through infidelity or fraud!
Trust is fundamental to life. If you cannot trust in anything, life becomes intolerable—a constant battle against paranoia and looming disaster. You can’t have relationships without trust, let alone good ones. Intimacy depends on it. I suspect more marriages are wrecked by lack of trust than by actual infidelity. The partner who can’t trust the other not to betray him or her will either drive them away or force them into some real or assumed act of faithlessness.
In the workplace too, trust is essential. An organization without trust will be full of backstabbing, fear and paranoid suspicion. If you work for a boss who doesn’t trust her people to do things right, you’ll have a miserable time of it. She’ll be checking up on you all the time, correcting “mistakes” and “oversights” and constantly reminding you to do this or that. Colleagues who don’t trust one another will need to spend more time watching their backs than doing any useful work. The office politics would make Machiavelli blush.
Organizations are always trying to cut costs. Think of all the additional tasks that are caused directly by lack of trust. Audit departments only exist because of it. Companies keep voluminous records because they don’t trust their suppliers, their contractors and their customers. Probably more than half of all administrative work is only there because of a pervasive sense that “you can’t trust anyone these days.” If even a small part of such valueless work could be removed, the savings would run into millions of dollars.
All this extra work—plus the work we load onto ourselves because we don’t trust people either. The checking, following through, doing things ourselves because we don’t believe others will do them properly— or at all. If you took all that way, how much extra time would you suddenly find in your day? How much of your work pressure would disappear?
I’m constantly amazed when people claim to be overworked and under constant pressure, yet fail to do the one thing most likely to ease their burdens: trust other people more. They don’t delegate, because they don’t trust people to do what they’ve been asked to do; so they have to take on every significant task themselves. They attend every meeting, however futile, because they don’t trust others not to talk about them behind their back, or reach decisions they don’t like. They demand copies of every memo, report and e-mail, because they don’t trust what might be said if they’re not watching. They’re constantly keyed-up and tense, watching for rivals or other departments to launch some covert operation to undermine their position. It’s not the pressure of actual work that’s driving them towards some stress-related illness, it’s their lack of trust in anyone and anything. Is it any wonder they’re close to total burnout?
Someone has to begin the cycle of trust by an act of faith. It’s no use waiting for the other person to make the first move. They’re waiting for you. It takes a conscious act of unconditional belief in that other person’s good sense, ability, honesty or sense of commitment to set the ball rolling. Will your trust sometimes be misplaced? Of course. Life isn’t perfect and some people aren’t trustworthy. But will increasing your willingness to trust produce, on balance, a positive benefit? Will it make your life more pleasant and less stressful? I believe so. You have little to lose by trying.
Trust has to start somewhere. Why not with you? Why not today? Why not right now?
Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.