Is Your Personality Sabotaging Team Trust?

Lack of trust sabotages team productivity by enabling interpersonal conflict, apathy, or cynicism. Not only does it make innovation impossible, it makes meeting ordinary expectations difficult. When low trust exists between team members, there is a tremendous emotional cost, creating doubt, fear, anger, frustration, resentment, and resignation.

Creating a consistent environment of trust is difficult because despite our best intentions, we may be delivering mixed messages. Trust isn’t about truth and facts; it’s about perceptions of authenticity and caring.

Have people ever described you as too nice?

If so, be careful when you are “getting input” from your team. To appease your natural desire to avoid conflict and not disappoint others, you may talk to each person in a way that sounds you want to make a decision that favors them. This results in each person leaving their conversations with you believing you support their idea or approach, only to find out that is not the case later on. Be intentional about using neutral language; practice advocating for the other side (no matter which side you favor) in order to appear neutral.

Are you an introvert?

If so, there may be times when you are thinking something but don’t say it. When this happens you may have a substantially different conversation going on in your head than is occurring out loud. When what you think and what you say are incongruent, your body language matches what you think. This leaves other people feeling uneasy, even if they cannot pinpoint why, thereby eroding trust nonetheless. Instead of allowing such a miscommunication to occur, you can explicitly delay your response; acknowledge what you are hearing and state that you need more processing time before making a judgment.

Are you a big picture thinker, a visionary, or creative?

If so, you may have a more difficult time focusing on a single executable strategy and communicating it in a way that your team can wrap their minds around getting on board with it. If you seem like you are constantly changing your mind, your vision and intentions will be taken less seriously over time. You might also use language that comes across as unclear, creating confusion. Before you make requests of others, you need to think it through until you are able to include enough information in a direct enough way that the other person is able to easily determine what you need, by when, and is able to evaluate whether they can commit to fulfilling your request or not. Though your mind can quickly shift to the next thing, be sure to follow-up on previous conversations and projects to see them through to completion.

Are you very action-oriented or task-focused?

If so, it might come across to your more laid-back or relationship-focused colleagues as if you don’t care about them and their viewpoints. It’s a collaboration killer for work teams when some members believe that others don’t care. Interpersonal conflict, withdrawal, and distrust escalates while healthy exchange and debate of ideas fades. When people know you care about them, you don’t have to convince them every time you need their trust. They will tend to be more forgiving when things inevitably do go wrong. Go out of your way to show them you do care, even if it means slowing down the pace of your project.

Trust is a two-way street

Really think twice any time you distrust someone. When we distrust someone, our natural instinct is to protect ourselves. The way that we protect ourselves is often by resisting, withholding, avoiding, arguing, ignoring, or attacking. Even if we don’t do it blatantly, our body language does it for us. Unfortunately, these behaviors only serve to accelerate the dysfunction; they encourage the other person distrust us. Whenever possible, extend trust first; assume good intentions unless you have evidence otherwise.

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  • Peter DeMarco

    I respectfully disagree with your statement, “Trust isn’t about truth and facts; it’s about perceptions of authenticity and caring.” Our relationships with others are built upon trust, which grows (at the very core of our transcendent being) out of truth-telling, not the emotions, as your article appears to advance. We would never be able to pursue excellence or possess integrity, if our trust with others is not, first, from truth telling.

    • Good catch–sometimes I forget the basics are not so basic. Trust absolutely stems from truth telling and that is a prerequisite for all of my thoughts above.
      Though always necessary, sometimes truth telling and good intentions are not enough. Other things we do or say can get in the way of trust.

    • Mira K

      It really depends on the truth you are sharing….Sometimes being to honest doe definitely not build trust rather it arouses emotional responses and people think you are too frank, blunt, etc. Little white lies can build trust in that people perceive you as someone that cares about others and tries to protect peoples feelings.
      In the extreme, psychopaths often have a skill to build trust with their victims by giving of the correct trust building signals. Trust is very complex, not rational and is build through perceptions and emotions. Yes in an ideal world truth should be all, but some truths are better left unknown.

      • Peter DeMarco

        Hi Mira, honesty is not the same as truth telling. We can be honest to a fault. The context and situation matter. We are obligated to tell the truth to those who have a right to know it, but not to those who do not have a need to know it and, especially, to those who intend to harm us unjustly. Trust is rational if it is healthy. If trust is not ultimately based in reasoning, then it leads to confusion, seduction and dis-regulated emotions. We learn to build authentic trust through self-mastery which educates our emotions, subordinating them to right reason.

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  • Geraldine Coy

    I think this is a great conversation. In my world, the basis for trust is truth. Truth allows others to understand the subtle biases, beliefs and values within. If truth is shared by colleagues, they have a much better platform from which to understand each other. This enables a more collaborative approach in the team, and although truth does not necessarily build friendships, it always helps to build bridges in understanding. Then, if the behavioural responses to agreed action is consistent with the stated truths, trust is the result. Thank you for a thought provoking debate!