ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

August 1998 / Special Feature : An Issue Of Trust

An Issue Of Trust

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash

All You Ever Really Need To Know About Trust You Learned In Kindergarten

Furnishing Trust And Empowerment

Eight Organizational Strategies That Build Trust

Trust In Whom

by Peter Block
Trust Columns
John Schuster

Cliff Bolster
Joel Henning
Dan Oestreich
Felicia Seaton-Williams
Trust Interviews
Trapeze Artist
Emergency Room Physician

Air Traffic Controller
Police Officer
Park Ranger


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Book Review


Trust In Whom
by Peter Block

Most of the time we talk about trust as if it has its own independent existence. We can build trust, we can destroy trust. This treats it like it is an aspect of a relationship and is based on how people behave with each other. Are we trustworthy…are they trustworthy? We talk of others violating our trust. Often in the workplace, it is management who gets more than their share of the blame. We expect leaders to be congruent, to walk their talk, and if they don’t, we think we have a “trust problem.” Or, if we are the leader, we are puzzled as to why the employees don’t trust us.

This frames trust as if it is determined by behavior. I want to offer another point of view. Trust is more an expression of our own inner-world, not an outside-in reaction to people and events as they affect us.

Trust is a State of Mine
A colleague of mine, Rosie Barbeau, just sent me a quote of Vaclav Havel from his book, “Politics of Hope.” He writes about hope in a way that also applies to trust. Editing him slightly, he says, “I should say first that hope is above all a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope in us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation”.

As with hope, trust may be something that we carry within us and is, in many ways, a projection of our own internal struggle onto those around us. If we distrust others, it is that we are asking them to carry a weight that we cannot bear within ourselves.

Trust is more an attitude about myself, an estimate of my own capacities. For example, if I do not trust management, a more accurate statement is that I am not happy with the way I act or I feel when I am around management. It is my response to their power that bothers me. My caution. My speaking in generalities. My quickness to back down in the face of an indifferent or controlling act on their part. My short-fused cynicism may be more the source of my distrust, than anything they do.

So What if they don’t Walk the Talk
I recall a meeting some years ago at Ford Motor Co. in the midst of their intensive efforts to implement an employee involvement program. Several years into the effort, they had a senior management project review with the team redesigning the Ford Thunderbird. The car turned out heavier and more expensive than their projections and in the meeting, the two men running the company, Pete Peterson and Red Polling, openly came down hard on the Thunderbird project manager.
Within hours after the meeting the word spread throughout the company that because of their aggressive act, employee involvement in Ford was a sham and in trouble. It struck me that even after years of heavy investment in employee involvement, all it took was one ill-advised action for people to lose trust in the sincerity of the whole program in question.

You might say that management should have done a better job of handling that meeting, and, of course, this is true. What went unsaid was that no one in the meeting stood up and asked the bosses whether their actions in this meeting were a sign they were changing their mind about employee involvement. Mostly people were silent and they left the harassed project manager to fend for himself. They did not find their own voices until they had left the room. So, where is the problem? Why did so many people give so much power to two men allowing them to undermine the trust in an employee involvement effort that people held so dear?

Distrust is too often a projection onto powerful others of our own ambivalence. Ford employees’ instant skepticism about Peterson and Polling was more an expression of their own timidity, fear and internal doubts about employee involvement, than a reflection of the actions of top management.

Anytime, Anywhere
If trust is my goal, then I have to come to terms with my own shadow: the power I give to others, the denial of my own ambivalence about participation, the fact I do not walk my talk, have silenced my own voice and have left behind my own faith and innocence. Trust is the willingness to go public with all of who I am. If I could ever really believe this, (rather than write about it) then my “trust problem” might fade. Why we think it is the task of people in power to create a high trust environment, I no longer understand.

I can create a high trust environment anytime I want. All I have to realize is that I am creating the environment in which I live. We are afraid of being naive and a fool if we continue to trust in the face of others’ betrayal. Well, what is so great about being strategic and clever? And what is so wrong about being a fool? Maybe the willingness to be a fool is the exact means of creating the high trust world that we each long for.

August '98 News for a Change | Email Editor

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