Trust in the Workplace

Do you really trust your boss - that he or she will do the right thing by you?

Do you trust your colleagues? As you mentally scan the organization that you work in how many people do you trust enough to tell them what is really going for you?

We know that in today’s business environment we need creativity, flexibility and everyone giving their all. But how often have you come up with a good idea or a better way of doing something and thought twice about telling anyone?  What holds you back?

Instinctively many of us know that it is easier to be yes men and women rather than rock the boat with ideas and thoughts that may be seen as contentious. It is not easy to be honest. As Daryl Mather says: “Honesty is often not seen as a virtue, but as a threat. A challenge to the way things are, to a person's reputation, and to the status quo.”

Why is this? We are taught as kids that it is essential we are honest, yet get into either a work or a social situation and we can lie with the best of them.

To answer this question about honesty, we have to go back to basics and this is the point where many people will switch off and not want to hear. Where did we first learn trust? It was at our parents’ or caregivers’ knee, or more literally in their arms. We had to trust, we had to trust as powerless infants that we would get fed, have our nappies changed and be cared for. However, there was a cost to this. As we got bigger we learnt that in order to get the care, approval and love that we wanted we had to do the things that we were asked to do. We had to become house trained as well as toilet trained. We learnt that there were rules that we had to abide by otherwise we were put in our rooms or punished. We learnt the hard way that when we didn’t do what we were told that we were ostracised and rejected. That felt very uncomfortable. We actually never forget that feeling although for most of us it is buried deep but nevertheless it got imprinted on the blueprints of our personality.

Now as adults we think we are over such simplistic thinking, however the sad truth is we are not, our original conditioning and programming is for most of us, still running the show.

So moving to the present - you are certain that you have come up with a better way of doing something or that your boss’s thinking is flawed or you know that his or her ideas are not really ethical but could and do make a quick buck for everyone. (The current banking scenarios spring to mind.) Imagine yourself challenging the status quo. What happens?

Most bosses would probably hear you out but as you talk you can tell from his/her expression and body language that your idea/comment/suggestion is going down like a lead balloon. You may get a cursory “I’ll think about it” comment or it may be shot down immediately. You sense that your move to be honest wasn’t the best idea and you probably think I’m not sure I’ll do that again.

Let’s jump into the boss’s shoes, what is he/she thinking?

Depending on what the boss learnt about trust at an early age he could be thinking:

·      He’s challenging my ideas, the way I’m thinking. His covert message is that I’m not doing it right, he thinks he can do it better


·      That’s a good idea, I’ll think about that and it may work out better for us all

Ideally he/she will be thinking the latter but unfortunately that is the exception rather than the norm. What s/he thinks will be largely dependent on how his/her own ideas were accepted as a small child. If they were mostly rejected, that is what s/he is most likely to do today. If, however they were taken seriously and considered, that is the way s/he will hear our ideas today.

Unfortunately, when we question our boss’s thinking most react negatively, just as we ourselves so often react negatively when challenged. At a core level, we are being triggered and out of conscious awareness, but none the less present, we fear rejection. This is uncomfortable so we close our minds and look to reinforce our own thinking as a protection mechanism.

Simply put:

At a core (unconscious) level we feel attacked or challenge – our mind closes against the new idea – it feels uncomfortable

Our best form of defense is to attack back – we minimize, ridicule or reject their ideas (our childhood programming is at play)


If we can be consciously aware, we see that someone simply has an idea that is different to ours

We listen, we feel our own discomfort, we hold the tension of our innate desire to reject the idea and the thought that if we can keep our mind open that we can evaluate this using our neo-cortex. (Thus overriding the unconscious, whose primary role is to keep us safe.) And who knows the idea may be extremely useful.

While we like to think that we are sophisticated, rational, intelligent people, (which we are in so many ways) our basic thinking is very primitive and predicated on keeping us safe. That is the way our brain is hardwired and has evolved. The consequence of this evolution is that most of the time we are quite illogical and react emotionally rather than rationally. That is why trust is so hard to earn and so quickly lost, particularly in the work place where we are all competing against each other for our livelihood.

In order to truly move forward in our thinking, we need to understand our own fundamental drivers and that means becoming aware of patterns of thinking that were laid down in childhood. For most of us this feels uncomfortable and somewhat infantile. We think as adults we are beyond all that early stuff. What we fail to realize is that early thinking is the foundation of the way we think and react today. It influences in some way every part of our life right now and at least warrants a look. This is particularly pertinent if we did not particularly admire the thinking we were exposed to as children because like it or not, it is alive and well in us until we become consciously aware. Becoming consciously aware enables us to finally have choice in all our interactions.