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The 5 Biggest Trust Killers

January 21, 2021, 5-min. read
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This time, we're starting with a slightly broader introduction - and there's a reason for that. As the word trust has gained some popularity lately and is thrown around like confetti, we thought we'd start by mapping out what it actually is. 

Trust, as such, is always related to something or someone. If we trust, we are willing to jeopardize ourselves and our future by relying on something or someone without full control over or directly influencing them. The trustee is dependent, voluntarily, on who or what they trust or give a chance. Trust manifests and grows gradually throughout a positive experience. It's a long-term process. At the same time, it can disappear very quickly as a result of a negative experience.

So, if you want to kill trust as opposed to building it, we've got some good news for you. You can do it relatively quickly and irreversibly. Often a single major event will do. Thanks to this, you don't have to apply all of the following killers and only have to choose one or two weapons to really bring it to an end. You're welcome!

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1. UNethical behavior

Let's start with big guns. The most reliable killer of trust is unethical behavior (of companies, and therefore management), which employees are directly witnessing.

There is no need to go beyond what is legal (tolerated bribes, harassment, abuse of information or power). Lying or breaking some promises is more than enough for you to do the trick. Ploys with promised and unpaid rewards or commissions, or the concealment or deliberate distortion of some information are popular ("You still haven't read the footnote written in that economical font size 6"). The more important the things concerned are (e.g. employment contract, remuneration), the more fundamental trust will be.

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However, although we say at the outset that UNethical behavior is the most reliable killer, it isn't 100% effective by itself. There are people who are okay with such things or are even impressed by them. In that case read along as you have to rely on other weapons. 

2. INconsistency

Surely you know the saying, "They don't practice what they preach." You don't have to be directly immoral or unethical. You can also make do with ordinary inconsistencies and non-transparency. A prevalent version of the aforementioned is the discrepancy between what you say and report and what you actually do.

Less controversially, but still relatively reliably, even random and sudden changes in behavior without explaining the reason or logic undermine trust. The less predictable your behavior is towards others or regarding your decisions, the less people will trust you. So - what is the thing your team least expects from you today? 

3. INjustice

Unjust behavior is also a very effective trust killer. Even if you don't stick to points 1 and 2, you still have room to be consistently and permanently unfair. The essence of efficacy is expressed in the saying: "Everyone is measured with a different ruler." Having two sets of rules is good. Some for you and privileged others (fellow managers, favorite subordinates), and one for the rest of the team.

Injustice can also be implemented through unequal conditions or discrimination against selected groups or individuals. And even though companies generally adhere to the principles of diversity, it's always possible to find room for some unfair behavior.

Injustice can also be implemented through unequal conditions or discrimination against selected groups...

4. DISinterest

Let's face it, the previous killers require a little activity and a strong stomach on your part. They're not for everyone. But there's also a trust killer that isn't so difficult to implement and doesn't require any special prerequisites on the part of the user. That universally applicable killer is DISinterest. 

All you have to do is send the signal to people: "I'm indifferent to you - I don't care what you think, I don't want to accommodate you, you don't interest me."

An alternative is the position: I don't (intentionally) inform you about important things, or I omit, distort, or otherwise manipulate some information. 

Generally, if you dare to do it, manipulation is also an excellent decomposing agent for confidence. However, manipulation is an advanced discipline and requires, if not natural talent, at least regular practice and improvement of methods.

5. UNreliability

The last and perhaps simplest trust killer is UNreliability. That is, I don't respect your needs or keep agreements, not because I don't want to, see point 4, but because I can't (I can't make it, I have other priorities, I don't have the conditions to do so, I forgot…).

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There isn't even any suspicion that you're intentionally undermining trust. An overworked, busy manager who doesn't keep his promises is a fairly common phenomenon, and those around him will tend to understand and apologize. Then it's up to you to use an alternative where you're unreliable not because you're behind or forgot from stress, but because you are incapable. 

IInability of the manager, or their being ill-equipped with various knowledge and skills, from basic mental condition to specific know-how, can very quickly undermine the trust of the people around them. Unfortunately, this is a strategy that can backfire on you and there's a risk that they'll replace you sooner than you can reach your goal.

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