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ATD Blog

When Trust Wobbles

Monday, April 25, 2022

“I can’t believe they don’t trust me! I’m a person of high integrity. My word is my bond.”

Sound familiar? I recently heard this from an executive after sharing his 360 feedback results. His employees trusted him, but his peers did not.

Trust: It’s complicated. And it affects family, friends, colleagues, employees, leaders, companies we work for, and companies we buy products and services from. Why is something we deal with every day still so tricky?

Trust makes interactions flow more easily. In a trusting relationship, you have mutual support and speak freely, try new things, come up with creative ideas, and assume positive intent. Lack of trust causes suspicion, fear of trying new things, hesitancy to share ideas, and an uncomfortable, anxious feeling.

Frances Frei examined how to build trust on a personal, team, and enterprise level. Her triangle model has three drivers of trust:

  • Authenticity (Do you mean what you say?)
  • Empathy (Do you care about me?)
  • Reason or logic (Do you know your stuff, and can you clearly explain it?)

The wobble is integral to Frei’s triangle concept. Think of trust as a three-legged stool. If your authenticity, empathy, or logic is off—one leg is shorter—it creates a wobble. Frei explains in her TED Talk, “If any one of these three gets shaky, if any one of these three wobbles, trust is threatened.”


Charles Feltman’s The Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work adds a fourth leg: accountability (Do you do what you say you’ll do?). His model focuses on four facets of trust:

  • Sincerity (see authenticity above)
  • Reliability (the accountability missing in Frei’s model)
  • Competence (reason or logic)
  • Care (empathy)

Instead of a stool, this model is a table, which still wobbles when the legs don’t match. You can apply this balanced framework to identify the source of a lack of trust in any relationship.

Returning to the the executive who was aghast at his 360, we searched for his wobble. His sincerity was strong. He was transparent and clear. People felt he had no hidden agenda. His reliability was good. His peers knew he would get high quality work done on time. He demonstrated competence. In his area of responsibility, he was clearly a subject matter. But his level of care missed the mark. His peers felt he was more focused on his and his department’s success rather than theirs and the organization’s.


Knowing this equipped him with the information to correct his wobble. He cared deeply about his peers, but he wasn’t showing it. Moving forward, he focused on listening and put together a plan to demonstrate his empathy for his peers.

What about you? Consider the relationships in your work life—with your colleagues, employees, and managers. Where is your wobble? Be aware of your habits that harm trust, and start rebuilding that trusting relationship today.

For a deeper dive, join me at the ATD International Conference & EXPO for the session 4 Trust Keys Your Team Can Use to Produce Results.

About the Author

Through active listening and collaboration, Becky Magnotta helps people and organizations achieve their highest potential. She understands business and is recognized for coaching, mentoring, strategic development, relationship management, and organization development. Her rich corporate career includes accounting, finance, marketing, sales communication, leadership development, talent management, and career coaching teams.

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