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The High Cost of Low Trust

Most organizations have no clue of the enormous cost of low trust, and because most executives have no means of measuring its bottom-line impact, they have little motivation to seriously address it. To compound the problem, many employees feel like helpless victims of the problems in their organizations and see no clear way to influence their leaders. Learn specific, powerful things you can do that will profoundly impact the level of trust in your relationships, your team, your family, and your organization.

Q: Is trust really necessary in business today? Can you do business without it?

A: You absolutely cannot do business without trust. It is not only important, it is absolutely vital. For instance, even transacting with somebody when you are buying gasoline, you trust that you are getting quality fuel; you trust that the prices are within the market; and you trust that your money will be accepted by that person. There are just so many elements to the simplest transaction that require trust. But we are like fish that discover water last and are sometimes unaware of those implicit elements. Trust is the lifeblood of all relationships, of all transactions, and is so foundational and fundamental to everything in life.

Q: What are evidences of a low-trust environment?

A: Low-trust environments are filled with hidden agendas, a lot of political games, interpersonal conflict, interdepartmental rivalries, and people bad-mouthing each other behind their backs while sweet-talking them to their faces. With low trust, you get a lot of rules and regulations that take the place of human judgment and creativity; you also see profound disempowerment. People will not be on the same page about what’s important. Ultimately, the culture will become driven by urgency rather than importance because everyone is in it for themselves and for their own agenda.

Q: What is low trust costing us?

A: Low trust has a huge tax associated with it. It creates a culture of toxicity, just like you have toxins in your body. Imagine what it costs a body to be full of poison. And that is what a low-trust culture is-it is full of poison. You see people embracing and promulgating what I call the six metastasizing emotional cancers. Metastasize means they send their cancer cells through the body, mind, heart, and spirit of a person. They can also spread through relationships.

The six metastasizing cancers are criticizing, complaining, comparing, competing, contending, and cynicism.

By competing, I don’t mean the healthy competition you find in the marketplace or in the basketball arena, but the kind of competition where you are competing for your own internal sense of worth.

These emotional cancers are the forces that literally undermine and eventually destroy relationships. However, trust makes all things possible.

Q: It seems like a lot of work to build and maintain trust. Is it worth the effort?

A: Absolutely it is worth it. It’s the most supremely important thing you can do to get the confidence of another person by being true to your commitments, by clarifying expectations, by treating people with kindness and respect, and by learning to be transparent about the information you have so that people trust it and you can almost speak to them in verbal shorthand. You hardly even have to finish sentences when there’s high trust. The speed of trust is an amazing thing. Without it, everything gets bogged down, slows down; people protect themselves, they think defensively, and they gather other people around them to form cliques. These cliques then judge other cliques, which only compounds the low-trust situation, slows down everything, and levies a huge tax on all human interaction and transaction.

Q: Help us understand the behaviors that reduce trust.

A: The metaphor I’ve used that I have found very helpful to people is an Emotional Bank Account. It’s like a financial bank account into which you can make deposits and take withdrawals. And if you get into a situation where you are constantly making withdrawals-the kinds that I have just been speaking about-you get an overdrawn Emotional Bank Account. And we all know what happens with a bank relationship when you have an overdrawn account. It kills your freedom, your flexibility, and your credit capacity.

Q: What behaviors increase trust? Is it a skill I can learn?

A: Absolutely. It is not just a skill you can learn, it is a character trait that you have to develop. It is not a technique you can just pick up. You have to be trustworthy in your heart and sincere about what your real intentions are so that you can be transparent. You’re not fearful of being “found out” doing something in the dark when you’re proclaiming something else in the light. The most important of all deposits into the Emotional Bank Account of trust is empathy, because empathy, or listening to another within his or her frame of reference, tells you what the important deposits are to that person. Every person is different. So you have to figure out what is important to them-how do they interpret kindness, consideration, and respect? How do they interpret making and keeping promises? How do they interpret any other positive deposit in the Emotional Bank Account? This is all a function of empathy, and it is the same with customers, with your associates in the business, and with your business partners. The key is to always develop a relationship that produces Win/Win Agreements, so the feeling is that everyone wins. But to do that, you have to deeply listen to other people to find out what the win is for them.

Q: Is it possible to regain someone’s trust? How?

A: It is absolutely possible to regain their trust, but to do so, you have to right the wrongs you’ve done; you have to apologize; you have to seek forgiveness; you have to try to make reconciliation in every way you can. But if you are in a state of denial and don’t have the humility to admit that you’ve made a mistake, then you’ve just taken another withdrawal and people will come to not trust your apologies and your asking for forgiveness.

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4 Responses to “The High Cost of Low Trust”

  1. Doug Brockbank Says:

    As a knowledge management analyst, I believed that knowledge trumped trust and all other slogans. I was wrong. Yes, knowledge is a critical asset. Some would say it’s your last competitive advantage. I know first hand why building a knowledge-driven organization is vital in a knowledge-based economy. But knowledge is only shared when there IS trust. For example, suppose you work in a call center are asked to contribute to a knowledge base so other technicians don’t have to “reinvent the wheel”. If you are the manager, and believe these knowledge management best practices, can you engage people in collaborating activities which capture, structure and reuse knowledge? Not if they don’t have trust. As Stephen insightfully pointed out in the “Eighth Habit”, people make choices about how much of themselves they will contribute based on how they are treated. If they are respected, empowered - and trust you - they will engage their heart, mind, body, and spirit to share their incredibly valuable knowledge. But without trust, there is no knowledge. For example, the knowledge workers says, “Why should I share my knowledge when it may effectively dumb me down enought for me to have you lay me off and outsource our support to India.” Trust is the catalyst that empowers knowledge, and all other critical activities within the organizastion.

  2. Adrianna Morici Says:

    I just wanted to say I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Covey on my way to Utah. Though I had never read any of his literature, after speaking with him the next day I went out and bought two of his books. I was incredibly impressed not only by his eloquent writing, but by the strong moral messages his books propogate. :)

  3. Jo Murphy Says:

    I am learning to listen.
    This has come after a long time of watching my own behaviour as though I am an oberserver. I obserbed I was interupting people - and then when I tried to stop this behaviour found I kept doing it again and again.
    Bit by bit
    Day by day
    I have slowed down and learnt to listen to the emotions of people as they speak so that I come to know what they are really saying
    Thank goodness for that.
    What you write is great - but - it is easier said than done.
    I guess I will always have to work at that one,

  4. Vanessa Fortune Says:

    I am an Administrator at our church Rhema Cape Town North and I wholeheartedly agree that in ANY organisation trust is vitally important and those six metastasizing cancers are real results of a lack of trust manifested. I experienced that even within a church context. And learned once again that the key to a healthy church is not just faith but also trust. And through your book I can say that I have slowly began to rid myself of these cancerous “growths”. Dr. Covey your book The 8th Habit has changed my life and for that I will be eternally greatful. God bless!

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