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Trust and respect in the workplace: Does it matter?

Jun. 2, 2014 - 11:37AM   |  
By TYLER ROBINSON   |   Comments
Tyler Robinson is the Chairman of the Executive Board for Young Government Leaders, and Portfolio Risk Officer at the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

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The words “trust” and “respect” are often thrown around with ease, but what do they actually mean and how should a manager think about these two concepts? Are they the same? Can you have an impact on whether others trust and respect you? Are they important to have? These are a few questions I hope to answer.

The dictionary defines trust as the “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” Respect it is “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” In contrast, disrespect is defined as “speech or behavior which shows that you do not think someone or something is valuable, important, etc.”

There are similarities between these two concepts, but there are differences. I see trust as knowing that you can rely on the veracity of someone else’s statements or behavior. If a trusted manager tells me something, I will believe that what they tell me is true. Respect is more about my perception of my manager. Over time I come to admire managers based on their actions and the way they conduct themselves.

Are trust and respect important? Trust is foundational in a manager-employee relationship. Without a baseline of trust the relationship can suffer. In the 2013 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, 11 questions about an employee’s supervisor/team leader were asked. One was, “Overall, how good a job do you feel is being done by your immediate supervisor/team leader?”

I looked at the responses from those under 40 for the remaining 10 to see which factors correlated most closely to the belief that the manage ris doing a good or very good job. The question, “I have trust and confidence in my supervisor” had the strongest correlation where 94 percent of those who trusted their supervisor also believed their supervisor was doing a good or very good job.

The weakest correlation, though still a healthy 79 percent, was for the question, “In the last six months, my supervisor/team leader has talked with me about my performance.”

In addition to the performance of the manager, I looked for areas that affected retention. I looked at those who disagreed or strongly disagreed with the question and what proportion were considering leaving their organization within the next year. The highest correlation was, “My supervisor/team leader treats me with respect.” Of those under 40 who said no to this question, 68 percent were considering leaving. (That fell to 55 percent for employees over 40.)

Again, the question concerning talking about performance had the weakest correlation at 59 percent. This is not to say it isn’t important to talk about performance, just that there are other things a manager can do that may have a larger impact.

How can a manager cultivate trust and respect within their teams? There are many ways to do so, but I want to give 3 quick thoughts:

■ Be honest. This seems self-evident, but consistently backing up your words with actions that verify those words builds up trust.

■ At times you are going to act untrustworthy or disrespectful. In those cases, admit when you are in the wrong. An “I’m sorry” can go a long way, especially when you have built up trust where they know you actually mean it.

■ Give credit freely where credit is due and take blame when it would be easier to assign it others.

In regard to the last point, I was reading the book “Team of Rivals” the other day and there was a part about how one of Lincoln’s cabinet members was accused of a variety of ills. Lincoln wrote a public letter to Congress about this situation. “Lincoln declared that he and his entire cabinet ‘were at least equally responsible with [Cameron] for whatever error, wrong, or fault was committed.’” Cameron wrote in response to this that most other men “would have permitted an innocent man to suffer rather than incur responsibility.” Acts like these had a tremendous impact on those he led during a difficult time.

Gaining the trust and respect of your staff is not easy and can take time, but doing so is important to be effective.

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