Recognizing Whom to Trust Keeps You from Getting Burned
Excerpted from The Truth about Managing Your Career and Nothing but the Truth

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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 personally, you will not be able to 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 various individuals. A very different kind of trust is required, for example, in a clerk or assistant than is required 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 alert you of any potential delay. It is particularly vital with assistants, or with anyone to whom you delegate tasks. You test it by making small requests and noting how and when people get them done. Then you’ll know whom 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, and is vital with any experts with whom you work. 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 post-dates 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 experts in their fields, is no guarantee that colleagues deserve political savvy trust. Your brainstorming colleague with great off-the-wall ideas may not realize the importance of keeping these low profile until you have warmed up your boss, and may let something slip that halts your plans. Political savvy trust gradually builds with time as you observe the ways in which 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 is able to put the organization’s interests before his or her own and give 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 in 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.

For more information about Dr. Karen Otazo, check out
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