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ATD Blog

The True Measure of Trust


Thu Mar 21 2019

The True Measure of Trust

Working under pressure with colleagues who think, feel, and see things differently can be both stressful and anxiety producing. If the situation persists, those who toil under such adverse conditions are likely to harbor some negative beliefs about each other that may drive them apart rather than pull them together.

Removing the interpersonal obstructions that prevent individuals from coming together as a unified force is not likely to happen naturally. The tenets of teamwork described below provide guidelines for building trust-based relationships, so that when disparate viewpoints arise the focus is on the task at hand and not on the individuals involved.


Collaborative Spirit

Having a collaborative spirit means believing more can be accomplished working together than alone.

Before you decide to trust someone, you have to ask yourself, “What’s in it for me?” At first glance there may appear to be little benefit. You may have to look closer before you realize that you cannot do the job alone and really do need what the other person brings to the table.

Everyone brings to the task a set of abilities and experiences that are different from yours, but when combined have the potential for achieving the objective. No one person has the necessary skills to complete the task on their own. But when talents are combined, the potential for success is higher than what could have been achieved independently.

Something unique happens when you trust someone to complete a task neither of you could have done well on your own. It's like a “third persona” or “communal spirit” emerges that was not there before. Your desire to trust that person and strengthen the relationship increases and you feel motivated to aim higher on the next assignment.

Common Purpose

To have a common purpose is to work on the same things at the same time for the same reasons.


Problem solving and decision making are two separate and distinctly different functions. Both are necessary and are often applied simultaneously, which is why you must first establish a common purpose before you pool your knowledge and begin your work.

Solving problems requires that you look to the past—relationships are based on track records and reputations. Making decisions requires that you seek out information about the future—relationships are formed based on what is doable and desirable.

A problem exists when there is a difference between an expectation and a response. The purpose, then, is to reinvent your collective memories of what might have caused the deviation. Problem solving brings together people who are skilled at recalling intricate details and remembering bits and pieces that may help to unravel the mystery.

Decision making is about doing things differently by changing what will happen in the future. To develop a common purpose, attention must be focused on the challenges that lie ahead. Decision making calls for people who are good at thinking forward and posing what-if and so-what questions.

Mutual Respect

Mutual respect means accepting and valuing what others bring to the relationship.


At first glance, what someone else contributes may not seem as important as what you bring to the relationship. What others do offer, however, is an expectation of how the task should be accomplished—something you could not possibly know unless you invited them to share their perspective without fear of being judged.

In every relationship, there are multiple expectations that need to be fully explored before any action is taken. Your objective then is to focus on the source of the differing viewpoints and not to persuade others to change their minds. After all, you cannot change what others think unless you first understand and accept the basis for their thoughts.

A mutual exploration of individual expectations is an opportunity to clarify everyone’s position while gaining a better understanding of what each person anticipates will happen when the actual work begins.

Productive Communication

Productive communication clarifies the intentions and expectations of those involved.

Whenever contact is made, communication occurs. Hand gestures, voice tone, and body posture can signal that you dislike someone or are unhappy about something. Even silence conveys a message. The challenge is to communicate in a manner that clearly conveys your intentions and leaves no doubt as to what you expect from others.

Making your point without making an enemy and getting the attention of those already suffering from information overload requires a special set of skills. Be certain that what you say aligns with what you mean. Getting people to trust you goes beyond just being honest and hoping they will understand and accept what you are telling them.

When an unfounded accusation surfaces, do not bother denying it. Instead, get the truth out there quickly. If some of what you say turns out to be inaccurate, then retell it again. Continue until those within your sphere of influence can see the truth and can picture for themselves what you mean and most importantly what action they are to take.

Neutral Attitude

Those with a neutral attitude takes no action when conflict arises until the whole story is known.

Interpersonal conflict is a warning sign that something is missing—something important to the relationship. It is likely that neither party has the most up-to-date information and therefore ought to search for what is missing before they continue working together.

If the conflict persists, your first priority should be to establish a clear understanding of what is keeping you from accepting each other’s viewpoint. That discovery should trigger a hunt for new information from which you may be forced to form new opinions.

Disagreements provide a natural opportunity to identify differences. The key is to agree to disagree until a mutually acceptable solution is found. If you cannot resolve the issue quickly, set it aside for now and do not let it get in the way of your working together.

What’s in It for You?

Regardless of whether you trust your co-workers or harbor doubts about them, the challenge is to do the right thing the right way for the right reason. Remember, it is not about you; it is about your job and how well you do it. The most important thing you can do to increase your value is to learn how to work collaboratively with others.

Building trust-based relationships moves you out of personalizing the task and into objectifying it. When that shift occurs, it becomes clear what, not who, needs to be fixed. Strained relationships, which were once a source of pain and frustration, become a source of satisfaction and enjoyment. What follows, then, is the realization that by putting your trust in others, even the most difficult challenges can be overcome.

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