Trust is the foundation of any successful organization. When team members feel trusted, they’re better able to bring their whole selves to work, and do their best work. But the skill of trust-building remains elusive to many. Randy Conley, vice president of client services and trust practice leader for The Ken Blanchard Cos, writes, “Leadership is a complex recipe that requires many ingredients, but trust is one must-have factor.”
Here’s some good news: while you can’t make someone like you, neuroscience suggests that you can influence how much they’ll trust you, and in turn, empower yourself to build an organization that’s built upon trust.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Professor Paul J. Zak described what happened during an experiment in which individuals were asked to send a stranger money, knowing that the amount sent would triple and the lucky recipient could make a choice: to share or not share their loot.
What Zak’s team found is that the more money individuals received, the more oxytocin was generated in their brains. Oxytocin, also dubbed the “love molecule,” plays a crucial part in the neuroscience behind trust-building. Further tests found additional connections between oxytocin and trust-building in interpersonal workplace relationships.
As people are trusted, it turns out, the human tendency is to trust in return. This all sounds good, but how do you make someone feel trusted so that they in turn will trust, too (without monetary incentive)?
Being a micromanager can actually inhibit trust-building within your organization.
A meta-analysis by Dirks and Ferrin (2002) found that when people trust their leaders, they have higher levels of job performance, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and are less likely to want to change jobs. Creating a culture that emphasizes transparency and honesty is critical to trust-building. When leaders give individuals insight into decisions and follow through with promises, employees in turn, become more trusting.
On the flip side, certain leadership behaviors, like micro managing, can “kill motivation, employee creativity and job satisfaction.” Otherwise, being a micromanager can actually inhibit trust-building within your organization.
Here are a few science-backed ways you can begin to establish a more trusting organization:
Building trust is both an art and a science. And in addition to helping create an inclusive and “friendlier” work environment, an organization built on trust is one that’s more sustainable, more effective, and better able to retain its best talent.
Original art by Theo Payne.
Many thanks to Hunter Black, Senior Research Scientist at BetterUp, and BetterUp Lead Coach Sarah Greenberg for their scientific input and guidance.