Cecily Cooper is a contributor of The Trust Project at Northwestern University.

Associate Professor of Management
University of Miami School of Business Administration / Organizational Behavior

Cecily Cooper is an Associate Professor of Management at the University of Miami. She earned her BA from the University of Florida and her PhD in Organizational Behavior from the University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business. Her research focuses on cultivating trust in management through model behavior, and the ways in which that behavior can impact an organization. She also studies broken trust within organizations, exploring the various kinds of trust violations and the most effective path toward repairing broken trust.

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Four Strategies to Increase Trust across Your Organization

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Contributor / Cecily Cooper
Cecily Cooper Organizational Behavior Leadership,Vulnerability,Communication Well, trust and leadership has been shown time and time again to relate to many key outcomes, such as employee job performance, helping behaviors, and job attitudes.

So, as a senior leader, you want to do anything that you can to increase trust in leadership across levels of the organization.

Now, one of the first key things that you can do is make sure that you treat your employees fairly because fairness engenders trust.

So, if employees feel that they’re being paid fairly, that decisions are made in a consistent and unbiased fashion, and that they’re treated with dignity and respect, then chances are they’re going to trust you.

Now, on the other hand, if you hear employees complaining that things are just not fair, then chances are they don’t trust you. And so, that’s one key thing to remember.

Second, you have to make sure that your words and your actions are aligned—so, there has to be consistency between what you say and what you do.

Third, transparency is really important. And by transparency, I mean that you need to communicate as openly and frequently as possible with employees and also give them as much information as possible.

And the last thing that I would like to mention, and this is a little different because most research on trust has been looking at employees trusting their leaders and why that’s important for so many reasons, but now we also know that it’s really important that employees feel trusted, that employees feel that their leaders trust them.

And since trust is a reciprocal process, if the employees feel that the leaders trust them, they’re also more likely to trust their leaders.

So, then the next question is, but how can a manager signal that they trust their employees? There’s a lot of different things that they can do.

They can give their employees more responsibility, more autonomy; don’t micromanage, don’t monitor—overly monitory—your employees.

And if there are positions that need to be filled in the organization, promote from within; don’t hire externally.

Bumper: Understanding How a Trust Breach Is a Matter of Perspective

If you’re a leader and you’re accused of something, there are two questions that you should consider.

The first is, are you actually guilty?—because if you’re not guilty, then it benefits you to deny as quickly as possible, and also, if there is any exonerating evidence, to also offer that evidence to support your denial.

But what if you actually are guilty? Well, there’s a second important question.

And that is, was the transgression (that is, what you’re guilty of doing) a result of a lapse in competence versus integrity?—because research tells us that integrity-related issues are much more difficult to overcome than competence-related issues.

But at the same time, perception of the specific event can be malleable.

For example, if you just made an honest mistake or you did not have adequate knowledge and that’s why you didn’t prepare the tax return correctly, that’s a very different issue in other people’s minds than if you were trying to misrepresent the taxes.

Bumper: How “No Comment” Elicits Distrust

You don’t want to remain reticent on the issue; in other words, it’s really risky to not respond.

The problem is that even if people just hear an accusation, they’re likely to passively believe it unless they’re given a reason not to.

But the tricky thing for leaders is there could be a lot of reasons that they don’t want to respond. So, there could be legal reasons that they should not respond, or if they respond, they know that they might implicate a third party.

And so, for a lot of these reasons, you will see people delay responding or say, “No comment”—which is very frequently used.

Now, the intention might be to get people to delay judgment for a while. But what research shows is that instead of delaying judgment, people actually are more prone to make judgments and come to the worst possible conclusions.

By remaining silent on the issue, you’re not doing anything to mitigate this accusation of guilt by denying, and you’re not apologizing, so you’re not expressing any remorse.

And so, what happens is then people will think that you are in fact guilty, and you’re also not remorseful.