Practical Wisdom on Trust

The marble jar is a key metaphor for trust…

I have been grappling with how to create a culture of trust in the workplace for the last 3 years. I have led one team in discussions about Stephen M.R.Covey’s book The Speed of Trust and Charles Feltman’s The Slim Book of Trust.

There is another solid contribution on trust now available. Brene Brown, who broke into the public consciousness with her research on shame and vulnerability, is hosting a website called Here you can find massive open online courses (MOOCs) based on her research. The first course is The Anatomy of Trust.

Without tromping all over Brene Brown’s copyright, she provides a handy acronym for remembering the basic elements of building trust: BRAVING. The first three are Boundaries, Reliability, and Accountability. You will have to take the class to learn the rest. There are exercises tailored to individuals, teams and groups and organizations.

boundariesThe Anatomy of Trust is available free of charge at As with most MOOC’s you work at your own pace, so if you want to you can watch all of the videos at midnight and do the exercises at 2:00 a.m. There are two instructional videos for a total of about 27 minutes. The five exercises took me a couple of hours to complete, and your time of completion will depend on how much you want to think about the questions or discuss them with others. This is also a 27 minute Q&A session recorded in January that is optional but recommended. As with all learning, you get out of it commensurate with what you put into it.

BB Boundaries quote

I am still “rumbling with trust”. Like all of Brene Brown’s teaching, you have to be prepared for some messy middle stuff before you experience the reward of transformation. I am grappling with really getting boundaries in my bones. I definitely recommend the investment of your time in this course.

3 Pillars of Trust

The trust fall is a classic "trust building exercise".
The trust fall is a classic “trust building exercise”. Real trust is built in a 1,000 interactions.

When I read Stephen M.R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust several years ago, I experienced one of those delicious moments when you read something you have experienced but never seen articulated. The basic premise is that when trust is present it is possible to save time and money in business; and the lack of trust results in increased costs and lost opportunity. I have shared it with several teams I work with and we all agreed that one area where the Covey book falls down is in practical advice on how to build trust. There is a long list of behaviors that build trust, but it is difficult to remember 24 or more ideas.

Then I discovered Charles Feltman’s The Thin Book of Trust. It is all about practical advice for building and maintaining trust in the workplace.

 SincerityI mean what I say, say what I mean, and act accordingly.

ReliabilityYou can count on me to deliver what I promise!

CompetenceI know I can do this. I don’t know if I can do that.

CareWe are in this together.

There is an excellent chapter on making more effective requests and responding effectively to requests.

“When you make a request of someone, in addition to making sure you have all of the elements clear in your request, check to be sure you are fully committed to what you ask for. For example, if you ask someone to do something by the next day, when you really don’t need it until next week, or worse yet don’t need it at all, that person is likely to begin to distrust your competence, your sincerity or both.” (p28)

My favorite chapter is 7. Confronting Distrust. Feltman gives you good advice on how to prepare for a more effective conversation when someone has damaged trust and restore the relationship.

The Thin Book of Trust, at less than 70 pages, makes a great homework assignment for a team. There are discussion questions.

As to the behaviors that destroy trust, I rely on a book on marriage. It may seem unlikely to have any transferable application. John Gottman’s book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work details the “Four Horseman” that destroy respect and trust: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.

These three books make up the 3 pillars of trust literature.