I have often spoken about healthy organizations and the importance of trust in those organizations with a healthy culture. It is easy to say trust is important but how do we build trust? And, how do we come to trust others? So I did a bit of research to see if there are some relevant answers that can be applied to mountain operations. Here is paraphrasing from a blog post found at LeadingResources.com. Trust amongst the staff in lift operations, lift maintenance, snowmaking and ski patrol is important, knowing you can count on the team member to carry out their assignment or that someone has your back in a tight situation is so vital to success.
To understand how fundamental trust truly is, we have to go back to the beginning. As it turns out, we humans are hardwired to seek situations in which we feel trust, because our brains release high levels of oxytocin when we experience trust. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good and gives us positive feelings about the people around us. As a result, we are able to work through our disagreements and not harbor grudges. We cooperate in extraordinary ways.
Every one of our emotions stems from our feelings of trust—or the lack of it.
Trust is based on the principle of predictable returns. If I do this for you, I’ll get this in return. Reciprocity is an evolutionary strategy, hardwired into our genes. If you give me a hand, I’ll return the favor—especially if there’s a strong likelihood of repeated transactions with you in the future. We see this in our mountain ops departments where helping others builds that relationship that emerges into trust.
Trust hinges on having enough information over time to determine whether reciprocity occurs. Our brains are hardwired to detect whether reciprocity and trust exist—or whether we’re getting the short end of the stick. This “cheater meter” is working in every conscious moment. If I think that you’ve treated me fairly, in ways I predicted, my cheater meter is in the green. If not, it swings into the red. For many in our world the “cheater meter” is on constantly as maybe it should be but if we don’t give others a chance how will trust be built?
You may not know it, but our cheater meters are working all the time.
When we feel trust, our cheater meter fades into the background. Everything feels good (that’s the oxytocin talking). But our cheater meters emerge the moment we experience distrust. Did your boss not include you in a decision that affects you? Did your peer forget to inform you about a bit of info relating to your job? Think about it. You know vividly when you distrust someone. Your cheater meter is a finely tuned instrument—one that you may not have even known existed. It’s working right now as you read this. Do you feel you’re getting useful information? Is this what you hoped to be learning? That’s your cheater meter at work.
Let’s add another layer of nuance to this trust business:
Each of us sets our cheater meter a bit differently.
This is particularly evident at the start of a relationship. Some people trust until they have data that convinces them otherwise. Some people distrust until they see evidence that they can trust. And a small percentage is on the margins: they either trust too much or rarely feel trust. Look at the following table and think about where your cheater meter is set.
If you said “trust until” you join roughly 45 percent of the population who feel that way. Another 45 percent say they “distrust until.” The remaining 10 percent occupy the two extremes, again in roughly even percentages. People have different trust orientations. That’s important to remember as you think about strategies for building trust.
Another dimension of trust has to do with expectations. Some have very high expectations and thus are easily disappointed. Others have low expectations and don’t feel particularly bothered when their expectations aren’t met.
So how do you build trust?
At the most basic level, trust is about reciprocity.
Reciprocity means getting treated fairly. In a work setting, this means people feel trust when they are paid fairly for the work they do. They feel trust when they are recognized for a job well done. Reciprocity hinges on predictability. If you’ve said something will occur if certain expectations are met, you’d better adhere to the deal—otherwise, you’ll set off a chain reaction of distrust.
Trust is not just about reciprocity. It’s about speed.
In a world where information flows at the speed of light, the speed of trust is the speed at which a colleague voluntarily communicates information that is important for you to know. For example, if I have the inside scoop on a fellow employee’s status or possible promotion, the speed of trust is reflected in how quickly I send you that information.
Trust obviously depends on communication.
Trust means that every employee, starting at the top, knows the organization’s goals. Trust means that roles and responsibilities are clear and that the rules for dealing with conflicts are well understood. Trust means holding people accountable for what they do and don’t do. High levels of trust enable people to listen to each other’s views, to talk about tough issues, to share information, and to work together as a team.
Another important element of trust is transparency—letting people know what’s going on even if the news is not all good.
Good company leadership shares how things are going, good or bad. Senior management goes out of its way to communicate what’s going on with revenues and profits. Transparency also builds trust with customers and other stakeholders. Transparency builds trust.
My big take away from this is that communication and transparency are critical to building trust and too trusting those around us. Being straight with our lift operators, snowmakers, lift maintenance folks is so important and even more important is communication. I have spoken of clarity and repeating the message in other posts. Building trust further strengthens the need for clarity in setting expectations, and delivering instructions and just because you said it once don’t think that you have said enough.