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  • Foto van schrijverFrans van de Ven

TRUST - where "positive connection" starts.

Trust is the most important component for creating connections through which people are prepared to allow their attitudes, actions and/or words to be influenced by someone else.

Would you be prepared to follow someone you do not trust?

There is an old Flemish proverb which says that: ‘Trust comes on foot, but goes on a horse’. In other words, it often takes time to build up trust, but this trust can be destroyed in an instant if it is abused. Trust consists of a number of elements. Here I will concentrate on trust in the context of an organisation, which is slightly different from trust in a private context. Although the two have similarities (as we shall see presently), ‘being competent’ plays a less important role in private relationships. In contrast, in an organisational context competence is a crucial factor in persuading you to trust and follow someone else. At the same time, it is important to realise that trust can be given for some competencies and not for others. For example, I trust my IT colleague to repair my computer, but not to inject me with my annual flu vaccination. (Likewise, I would never let the company doctor anywhere near my computer!) Trust in organisations is therefore competence-related. If I am convinced that someone is competent in a particular domain, I will be prepared to follow him in that domain, but not necessarily elsewhere. What’s more, trust in someone’s confidence can also be conditional. If I am going into hospital for an operation, I unconditionally trust the senior surgeon to perform it. But if I hear that the assistant surgeon is going to perform it, I will only give my permission on condition that the senior surgeon supervises the proceedings.

As far as trust in work relationships is concerned, the following components are, in my opinion, the most important:

Honesty and integrity

This may sound like stating the obvious, but honesty and integrity are the foundations on which any relationship of trust is built. Honesty means that you always tell people what needs to be said, so that they always know what is happening and are under no illusions about the position they are in. This in turn means, amongst other things, that you need to communicate difficult messages in a frank and forthright manner, without attempting to embellish the truth. This takes courage. Integrity means that you respect the applicable values and norms in your organisation, your profession and your relations with others. For example, you never reveal information that has been given to you confidentially. Integrity and honesty also mean that you take full responsibility for your mistakes.

Being consistent

In the first instance, I interpret ‘being consistent’ to mean ‘doing what you say you will do’. There are two ways of looking at this: one does indeed involve turning your words into actions; the other involves doing yourself what you ask and expect others to do. The first essentially means ‘keeping your word’; the second means ‘setting a good example’. However, I like to take the idea of being consistent a stage further by turning it around, so that you not only do what you say, but also say what you intend to do; in other words, you keep people properly informed of your plans, so that they are not unexpectedly surprised by the things you do, which could in some situations lead to negative consequences. Negative surprises are always damaging for trust, which further implies that open, honest and timely communication and feedback are also part of this component. Last but not least, consistency also implies a degree of predictability, so that people know you will react in the same way when the same or similar circumstances repeat themselves.

Taking account of the interests of others

Quite rightly, people only trust us when they are convinced that we have their best interests at heart. This means we need to have a knowledge of their needs, wishes and concerns, and must do our best to respond to them positively. How do you acquire this crucial knowledge? There is only one way: by asking them and taking the time to listen carefully and sincerely to what they say. Of course, I realise that it is impossible to always take 100% account of everyone in all circumstances, but if you wish to secure people’s trust you must be able to convince them that you have a positive intention to defend their interests to the best of your ability. If your efforts in this respect are not successful, you must always explain to them why this was not possible. This, too, is an inherent part of trust.


In an organisational context, people will only trust you if they feel that you know what you are doing. But this does not mean that you need to know everything and must always have all the answers. However, it does mean that you will need to understand the questions that people ask and must also have the wisdom to know where you can find the knowledge and information you need to formulate the right answers and decisions. In other words, competence is not only about being aware of what you know and what you are able to do, but also about being aware of what you do not know and what you cannot do, so that you can go in search of the necessary advice. This means that in some circumstances you might only give trust or gain trust for the implementation of specific tasks where the necessary degree of competence is clearly present, but not for other tasks where the required level of competence is currently still lacking.

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