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Truth 6 Recognizing Whom to Trust Keeps You from Getting Burned

When you start a new job, as with any new relationship, there is a period of trust-building. Your colleagues need to develop trust in you, as you do in them, if your working relationships are to be effective. This reciprocity is essential in the workplace; however efficient you are, you can't do your job in isolation. If you can't trust your colleagues to be there for you, you could end up in big trouble.

There is no formula for generating trust. Trust is above all a feeling, something that gradually evolves through shared experiences. However, it can be helpful, in building effective working relationships, to carefully consider what kind of trust you need in whom. For example, you require a very different kind of trust in a clerk or assistant than you do in a colleague with whom you are working on a controversial new idea.

There are four major types of trust to think about as you work with others:

  • Get-it-done trust involves knowing that others will meet commitments on time and within budget and that they will alert you to any potential delay. This is particularly vital with assistants or with anyone to whom you delegate tasks. You test this kind of trust by making small requests and noting how and when people get them done. Then you'll know who you can trust when a crucial project with an inflexible deadline comes along. You can nurture a climate of get-it-done trust by making it clear that people should come to you with any concerns about meeting deadlines as soon as they have them.
  • Expertise trust is about believing in someone's special knowledge or ability. It's a vital kind of trust to have with any experts you work with. You must be certain that their advice is sound and their knowledge current. For example, when hiring a consultant to advise on a Hong Kong joint venture, you should check that his or her experience postdates the colony's handover to China, or it will be of limited use. You need to know that experts will give you the real scoop and the whole scoop whenever you ask or, ideally, even before. You test expertise trust by double-checking with others the information you are given until you feel fully confident in someone.
  • Political savvy trust comes from knowing that your colleagues understand workplace norms and how to play the organizational game. It is bound up with confidentiality and discretion and is important in any colleague with whom you work strategically. Being great at getting things done, or being an expert in his or her field, is no guarantee that a colleague deserves political savvy trust. Your brainstorming colleague with great off-the-wall ideas may not realize the importance of keeping these ideas low-profile until you have warmed up your boss, and he might let something slip that halts your plans. Political savvy trust gradually builds with time as you observe how colleagues behave in others' company.
  • Structural trust is needed whenever you work with someone from elsewhere in your company. Ideally, it comes from knowing that the other person puts the organization's interests before his or her own and gives credit to other departments rather than taking total ownership. Given that resources are usually stretched, and that different departmental interests often don't coincide, developing total structural trust is tricky. However, you can generate a good working trust by establishing clear frameworks in advance, rather than taking blind leaps of faith. If you have to split a commission with someone on another team, for example, you should agree on the percentage split before you team up to approach a customer.

Every occasion for dealing with others, however low-key, is a chance to test their trustworthiness. If someone breaks your trust once, you should certainly be wary of asking for his or her support with anything important in the future. There's not much time and space in organizational life for second chances.

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