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Trust is something we may think little about until it is damaged or lost. Yet, trust frees us to take risks. Trust leads us to make suggestions and even disagree without fear of rejection or retribution. Trust can lead us to do a little more and push a little farther because we know our efforts will be noted, supported, and appreciated. Trust frees us from constantly “looking over our shoulder” and seeking reassurance.  

Trust may be thought of as the “grease” that “frees the wheels” of an organization to move easily, with minimum effort. A high level of trust can reduce anxiety, worry, and stress. It can also free our energy to focus on our work and serving students.  

Of course, the events of the past two years have placed serious strain on our trust, confidence, and energy. It is easy to feel as though others are ready to second-guess our decisions and actions. We might worry that, despite our best efforts, getting student learning back on track will take time, and patience may be in short supply. 

Building and restoring high levels of trust in ourselves, each other, and the institutions wherein we work is not an easy task or a quick project. There is also little value in constantly looking for someone or something to blame. On the other hand, the process of focusing on and building high levels of trust can be a therapeutic and energizing one. The actions necessary to build trust can increase our feelings of connectedness, free us to be more open and vulnerable with each other, and give us the confidence to meet the challenges we face. We do not have to have all the answers or avoid every mistake, and we might even stumble. In fact, trust grows from how we respond to not always knowing, making mistakes, or falling victim to occasional stumbles.  

So, how can we build and maintain the level of trust needed to free us to focus on our work with confidence and openness? Dennis Jeffe, writing in Forbes, identifies six building blocks of trust in our relationships and the organizations in which we work. He notes that when any of the building blocks are absent, levels of trust will diminish. If we want to build and reinforce high levels of trust, we can turn to these six elements to inform and prioritize our actions.  

The first building block is reliability and dependability. They are foundational to trust. People want to know that we are true to our word and that we will follow through on our commitments; the same is true for organizations. Being conscientious and committed to the promises we make can build confidence and nurture trusting relationships. 

The second building block, transparency, speaks to openness and timely communication. Keeping secrets and withholding information breed suspicion and distrust. As decisions are considered and made, sharing options to be considered and the thinking behind them can go a long way toward building trust. At the same time, we need to be open and forthright about our thoughts and reactions rather than keeping quiet and then complaining to each other later.  

The third building block is competency. We must take responsibility for our work and build the skills necessary for success. When there is doubt about the competency of those with and for whom we work, it can be difficult to trust. Good intentions and an optimistic outlook are important, but they are not a substitute for competency.  

The fourth building block is sincerity and authenticity. When we speak, others need to know that we believe what we say and that our actions will be consistent with our words. When we attempt to distract or manipulate others for our own purposes, trust suffers.  

The fifth building block is fairness. We want to be confident that consideration and treatment of everyone is driven by respect and even-handedness. Opportunities, decisions, and support need to reflect the interests of all, even if not every decision and action can fully satisfy everyone.  

The final building block of trust is openness and vulnerability. Our willingness to admit mistakes, accept and respect disagreement, and even ask for help invites honest conversation and healthy conflict. Interestingly, when we are willing to admit faults and lack of perfection, it is easier for others to step in, support, and assist when needed. Also, timely admission of mistakes and sincere apologies can be powerful ways to rebuild trust when it has been damaged.  

Building and maintaining high levels of shared trust will not solve every problem, eliminate every pressure, or overcome every challenge. However, when trust is present, every problem, pressure, and challenge is easier to manage and less daunting to face.

Thought for the Week

In response to the uncertainty and disruption in which we find ourselves, researchers and experts say that the number one skill for survival and success in today’s environment is adaptability.

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