Yoram Solomon, PhD
How Can You Tell if You’re TRUSTED or Not?
My work in The Book of Trust®, The Trust Show™, the Trust Habits® workshops, my keynotes, and almost everything I do revolves around being more trusted. But the first step in becoming more trusted is knowing if you are trusted or not. Most people will not simply tell you that they don’t trust you. The main reason is that they don’t trust your reaction when they say that. It’s a Catch-22 situation. Those may be people you really want, or need, to be trusted by, so you want to know if they don’t trust you. This article will show you how to tell if you are trusted or not.
Why is it important to be trusted?
In his book The Trust Factor, Paul Zak gave many reasons why you would want to be trusted. When you feel high trust, as a result, you experience much less stress and burnout, more energy, joy, a sense of accomplishment, and job satisfaction at work, you feel closer to your colleagues, and the company benefits from your higher engagement levels, your likelihood to stay with the company at least one more year, and that you are more likely to recommend this workplace to a friend or family member. In my surveys, I found that when your boss trusts you, they are 67% more likely to give you autonomy. A study done by Liverpool Hope University found that 78% of employees believe this is important to them. No doubt, there is significant value in feeling trusted at work. So, how do you find out?
Should you ask people if they trust you?
You must remember that trust is relative and that the same behavior that would cause one person to trust you could cause another person to distrust you. With that in mind, when you want to be trusted by a particular person, that person would be the best to know if they trust you or not.
But there is that catch-22 again. Some people would tell you to your face that they don’t trust you. Those people don’t worry about the consequences of you learning that or your reaction to this knowledge. But, in general, I found in a survey that if they trust you, people are 106% more likely to give you the feedback you need to hear rather than the feedback they think you want to hear. This means that if they don’t trust you, they are 51% less likely to tell you that they don’t trust you if they don’t. A Catch-22 indeed…
Another alternative is to ask a third person familiar with you and the person you wish to be trusted by. Their knowledge is not as good as the person you want to be trusted by. They might have a hidden agenda in their feedback to you. They might not really know if the other person trusts you or not, but they may appear to know. They might not know more than you do.
The last option is to rely on your firsthand impression and analysis. It is a subjective analysis from your point of view, which is obviously biased. I encountered too many people who believe they are trusted when, in reality, they are not, but also people who thought they were not trusted when, in fact, they were. This article aims to provide more objective tools to assess whether you are trusted or not.
With that, let’s see the signs that your boss, employees, or peers don’t trust you (and therefore, you must work to be trusted by them).
A few considerations about the symptoms
First, remember that the symptoms I listed below are on a scale and are not binary.
Second, those symptoms may initiate at higher levels of the organization than your boss, who simply passes them to you (although a good leader should shield their team from such symptoms).
Third, there could be other causes for the same symptoms not rooted in distrust (for example, your boss might be asking you to put things in writing not because they don’t trust you and need evidence but simply because they suffer from short-term memory problems). Fourth, those signs are cumulative. A single symptom might not indicate a lack of trust, but the aggregation of multiple symptoms of distrust will. Finally, it doesn’t matter if their low trust in you is the product of your low trustworthiness (in their eyes) or their low trustfulness (in people in general or your kind of people in particular). The outcome is that they don’t trust you as much as you wish to be trusted by them, and the only thing you can improve is your trustworthiness in their eyes.
Signs that your boss doesn’t trust you
They micromanage you. I found that when your boss trusts you, they are 67% more likely to give you the autonomy you need. If they don’t trust you, they will micromanage you. This would be manifested by them telling you exactly how to do your job with great granularity, asking for detailed reports, constantly monitoring you (and if you work remotely, installing tracking and productivity monitoring tools on your computer), and watching your breaks and when you come to work and go home.
They require you to ask permission before you try anything and indicate there will be consequences if you don’t.
They demand that you follow strict policies (that are not necessarily required by the company).
They want all your communications with them to be in writing because they don’t trust that you will not “rewrite history” when it suits you.
They don’t take your suggestions seriously and often seek a second opinion on everything you suggest.
They don’t invite you to important meetings where your input could be significant on issues you might have to execute or will be impacted by.
They keep confidential information from you (even when the company doesn’t require them to).
They would rather do things themselves than ask you to do them.
Signs that your employees don’t trust you
They provide you with details reports of everything they do.
They ask permission before doing almost anything, even when they don’t have to.
They avoid giving you bad news. You find out bad news through other sources.
They rarely disagree with you, publicly or even privately, and they don’t challenge you even when they believe you are clearly wrong.
They don’t ask questions because they are afraid you would consider those questions stupid, and they don’t suggest ideas, fearing you would consider those stupid ideas.
They don’t ask for advice, coaching, or mentoring. Instead, they ask for specific, detailed instructions, preferably in writing, because they don’t trust that you will later not claim they didn’t understand what you asked them to do.
They follow policies to the letter and never challenge them, even when policies are lacking, not applicable, and not considering the current circumstances.
They don’t invite you to meetings when they don’t have to, especially informal or working sessions.
Signs that your peers don’t trust you
They don’t invite you to meetings, and when they do invite you, no decisions are made during the meetings. Instead, they make decisions before or after the meeting, in private and without your presence.
They avoid disagreeing with you. In my surveys, people are 10 times more likely to say disagreements are unproductive, don’t feel comfortable disagreeing, or avoid disagreements altogether.
They talk about you behind your back (and you hear about it from others).
They don’t give you the feedback you need to hear. Either they don’t give you feedback at all, or they give you the feedback they believe you want to hear rather than what you need to hear. In a survey, I found that people are 106% more likely to provide you with valuable feedback if they trust you, and if they don’t trust you, they are 51% less likely to.
They don’t take your feedback and ideas seriously. In a survey, I found that people are 76% more receptive to your feedback and ideas if they trust you. If they don’t trust you, they are 43% less likely to.
They would rather do things themselves than ask you to do them.
They are not willing to be vulnerable with you. In a survey, I found that people are 240% more inclined to be vulnerable with you if they trust you. If they don’t trust you, they are 71% less likely to.
There is one more way to know if the other person trusts you: through the other person’s body language. The other person may be able to control their words carefully. That’s easy. What’s not easy is controlling their body language. Body language is much less controllable, telling you what they really think about what they just said. Look for consistency (or inconsistency) between their body language and words. Although, that depends on how expressive the other person is and how perceptive you are in detecting those subtle inconsistencies.
Can you think of more symptoms of not being trusted?
While the lists above may be comprehensive, they may not be all-encompassing. To find out if someone trusts you or not, simply ask yourself, “If I was them, and I trusted someone, what would I do differently? And what would I do differently if I did not trust them?” (the “them” refers to you in that specific relationship). Then, observe how they interact with you and determine whether it is closer to how they would behave if they trusted you or to how they would behave if they didn’t trust you.
How do you get them to trust you?
Sometimes, you may not be looking for “general” trust from the other person but to be trusted by them to a certain level (the first law of trust states that trust is continuous and not binary) to do something specific (the second law of trust states that trust is contextual and not universal). It could be a particular task and not across everything you do in the relationship with them.
The simplest way to know what you must do to be more trusted by them in that specific task is to ask them, “What do I have to do so you will trust me with [whatever the task is]?” You may be ahead by knowing how to ask specific questions along the 6-component relative trust model (the who you are components of competence, personality compatibility, and symmetry, and the what you do components of positivity, time, and intimacy).
They may have never thought about why they didn’t trust you with that specific task, and now that you ask, they would realize that they can trust you with it.
They may not have trusted you, but given your question, they will tell you what you must do to earn their trust in that task.
Finally, The fact that you are asking this question indicates to them that you care about being trusted to do that task (maybe they simply didn’t know that you wanted to be trusted before and assumed you didn’t). Either way, you may have “earned trust points” with them already, but you are definitely on your way to being more trusted.
Want to hear more? Listen to this week's podcast episode: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/s9e1-how-do-i-know-if-im-trusted/id1569249060?i=1000607323829
Dr. Yoram Solomon is an expert in trust, employee engagement, teamwork, organizational culture, and leadership. He is the author of The Book of Trust, host of The Trust Show podcast, a two-time TEDx speaker, and facilitator of the Trust Habits workshop and masterclass that explains what trust is and how to build trust in organizations. He is a frequent speaker at SHRM events and a contributor to HR.com magazine.