What Difference Does Trust Make

by Ron

In a research study several groups of business executives were asked to be involved in a role-playing exercise. The groups were given identical factual information about a difficult policy decision, and then they were asked to solve a problem related to that decision. Half of the groups were briefed to expect trustworthy behavior from the members of their group; the other half were told to expect untrusting behavior (“You cannot openly express feelings or differences with members of your group”).

After thirty minutes of discussion, each group member as well as those who had observed the role playing completed a questionnaire. The responses were in harmony with each other: The discussions among members in the high-trust group were significantly more positive than the discussions among members of the low-trust group. In fact, people in the low-trust group who tried to be open and honest were virtually ignored. Hostility was caused by a mere suggestion, and it quickly spread throughout the group. The people in the low-trust groups realized that the lack of trust kept them from high achievement. They did not feel free to be vulnerable due to the actions and rejection of other group members—they were not among the trustworthy.

Here are some findings on the high-trust group:

  • Members were more open about their feelings.
  • Members experienced greater clarity of thinking.
  • Members searched for more alternative courses of action.
  • Members reported greater levels of mutual influence on outcomes.

The high-trust group opened the gate of personal vulnerability, and the result was a better team and a model of integrity-based leadership.

When people do not trust one another, it is difficult for the organization to succeed and for the people within the organization to feel completely fulfilled. People who feel trusted and who find their leaders trustworthy are more satisfied, and their work environment is less stressful. There exists a feeling of openness and confidence and a greater ability for people to believe they can take risks.


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