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It’s the bedrock of every human relationship and key to engagement and performance.

While highly prized, we’re not always very good at keeping our trust alive and well and once it’s gone, sometimes it’s gone for good.

Lack of trust shows up everywhere and in the workplace is linked to high staff turnover rates, mental distress and reduced productivity.

Our lack of trust costs us and business a lot.

The 2015 AI Absenteeism and Presenteeism Survey Report revealed the annual cost of absenteeism in Australia to be $44 billion and presenteeism around $35 billion.

While presenteeism is harder to quantify, if you are unable to work properly because you lack faith in your colleagues, your boss or the system think about how much human potential is being wasted here.

When talking with different organisations, the single most common issue I am asked to help them with is managing organisational change. On digging a little deeper this is often because of difficult or toxic workplace relationships, closed mindsets and a simmering level of mistrust.

This is where using the the brain science can really help to restore trust and lead effective and enduring positive change. The TRAICE® model supports the essential elements for effective interpersonal social interaction or in other words – getting on with others. The most important of these is… trust.

Being highly social, we humans love to connect. We form close bonds that are deepened through shared values, beliefs and mutual respect. Oxytocin our so-called “trust hormone” is released when we feel we are in trusted and trusting relationship. Not surprisingly it’s at its highest when we are with those we love. We can boost our own levels through physical touch or a shared look or even a squirt of oxytocin up your nose!

Paul Zak has researched the role of oxytocin extensively. He recommends 8 hugs a day to keep your oxytocin levels high. But if you’re not a “huggy” sort of person, or it is culturally inappropriate, a handshake may suffice.

Your brain likes trust because it makes you feel safe and in a more “towards” state. Trusting others and being trustworthy are essential in the business world and yet too often a bond that may have taken years to build can be broken in an instant through

  • A careless remark that causes offence (whether intended or not).
  • A lack of cultural sensitivity.
  • Being incongruent in words and deeds.
  • Failing to share information that will impact others
  • Putting your own interests first and failing to keep others safe.

When trust is breached that “Lance Armstrong moment” kicks us hard in the guts. It triggers deep emotion including anger, dismay, fear, sadness or disbelief.

Losing trust in a colleague or boss is bad for everyone.

Social pain hurts just as much as physical pain because they share common neural pathways. The difference being you can’t see social pain as you can when someone has injured their leg.

Minimising the pain of lost or mistrust matters because if you are in a more highly charged emotional state it’s harder to stay focused or to concentrate on other things. Our mind plays endless loops of sad thoughts. It keeps us awake at night or creates unhappy dreams where we may seek revenge, and it can derail motivation to work at our best.

The first step to building a brain safe workplace requires every manager, team leader, business owner and individual to recognise those triggers that threaten your sense of trust and know what you can do to stay safe.

But before expecting to be trusted, it’s about demonstrating your own trustworthiness first.

Be transparent; in your intention and actions

 Rod Kramer organisational behaviour professor from Stanford talks about the fatal mistake many organisational leaders make when things go wrong, it is not so much the error, but that they are seen to take steps to cover up that mistake or deny any responsibility.

While it may be a while before you decide to purchase a new Volkswagen car again following the discovery of the rigged diesel emissions tests in 2015 – at least the former CEO Martin Winterkorn went part of the way towards restoring trust by admitting responsibility for the “irregularities” found in diesel engines, but then reduced the impact of his statement by going on to say he was “not aware of any wrongdoing on my part.” Maybe he wasn’t, but that statement reveals an unwillingness to stand up as a trustworthy leader who would take on the role of sorting out a big corporate mess.

 Being trustworthy is looking for ways to demonstrate your integrity, behaving in a manner that is transparent and open, and taking responsibility for actions required to address a challenge, issue or crisis.

Be visible and accessible

 This is all about looking for opportunities to communicate with staff, clearly and often.

It’s about having an open door and being willing to listen.

It’s about treating people well, and being fair.

Above all it’s about being human.

Is trust and trustworthiness highly valued in your workplace?

How do you show you are trustworthy?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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