The Trust Bank: Five Stages of Trust

Leaders need to build their capacity to trust and their ability to inspire trust in others.  There are five stages of trust. Assess yourself and your team and use the tips below to start building trust with intention.

The Trust Bank

Stage 1:  Low Trust

There is no trust. You might believe that everyone is out to get you and you have to cover your back and protect yourself or people will take advantage of you.

People only care if they can trust you to meet their basic needs and keep them safe.

The trust relationship is very one sided.  They need you to care for them, but they have no ability or intention of caring for you.  At work, an employee with very low trust might expect their boss and their company to provide a safe work environment where their car doesn’t get broken into and where their personal safety isn’t threatened.  They expect to be paid and have competitive benefits. But they feel entitled to these things independent of their performance or their contribution.

Stage 2: Circumstantial Trust

“You scratch my back, then I will scratch yours.” Trust is circumstantial and as needed.  It is given parsimoniously and revoked immediately at the first sign of threat.  At this level people keep score.  Trust is very conditional.  Everyone starts a zero and they have to earn your trust.  There is a general ledger for trust and trustworthy activities, and you make deposits and withdrawals in people’s trust banks and only trust people who have some specific balance.  For some of people that’s 100%, for others, it’s a little less, maybe 75%.  If they fall below your threshold of trust, you revoke your trust.

Stage 3:  Earned Trust

There is conditional, earned trust. Everyone starts out neutral with you and they make deposits and withdrawals in your personal trust bank.  So long as they remain in the positive, you trust them.  When they drop into the negative, you don’t trust them until they get back into your good graces.  If an individual violates your trust a certain number or times, you might revoke it permanently.

Stage 4:  Conditional Trust

You trust people until or unless they give you a reason not to.  People start out with your full trust.  If they violate your trust, you make a withdrawal from the trust bank.  You generally trust people unless they fall below some specific level – 50%, 75%, it’s different for every person.  Your husband might get to fall to 50% and you still trust him, but your boss may only get to fall to 85% before you retract your trust.  Once they fall below that level, they have to earn enough trust back before you will trust them again.

Stage 5:  Unconditional Trust

You trust people and you don’t keep score.  You grant people your trust.  You choose to trust even when there is a risk of hurt and betrayal.  When people violate your trust, you talk about it and both do the work to get back into relationship.  You do the work with them or on your own to set up healthy boundaries so that you can be in an effective relationship that works where you know what you trust them for, what they trust you for, and where trust is no longer an issue.

Some issues with the Trust Bank:

  • It’s always conditional.
  • It’s always transactional.  It’s focused on what’s in it for you.
  • Everyone’s rules are different, and nobody really understands their own rules, let alone anyone else’s.

Trust is tricky.  Your relationship with trust is part of your development and transformation as a leader.

12 Tips for Building Trust

  1. Do what you say will do when you say you will do it.
  2. Identify your personal values and live by them.
  3. Be totally honest and totally kind (at the same time).
  4. Express gratitude and appreciation for others.
  5. Hold people accountable.
  6. Admit your mistakes and clean up your messes.
  7. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
  8. Say no when you need to.
  9. Renegotiate deadlines and commitments when you need to.
  10. Admit when you don’t know something.
  11. Explain your thought process.
  12. Practice granting trust to others and seeing what happens.

“Because you believed I was capable of behaving decently, I did.” – Paulo Coelho

Coaching is a place for you to figure out what stage of trust you’re at as a set point in your life and specifically with different individuals on your team.  It is a place to explore and understand what rules you are playing by.  It is a place to develop yourself and your ability to trust.  Let us know if we can help!

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