Feb 16, 2023

Trust Is Risky; Mistrust Is Riskier

Bestselling Author Stephen Covey Explains Why Trust in the Workplace Is Worth the Risk

Stephen Covey doesn’t mince words about the importance of trust: “Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

But extending trust isn’t a risk-free endeavor. And deciding who to trust isn’t easy. So what happens when the “glue of life” gets too sticky? Keep reading to learn how to balance the potential risks and reap the rewards of a high-trust workplace. 

Why Most People Choose Mistrust

Covey has found that mistrust is as common as it is disastrous to success in the workplace. But mistrust is understandable. When you extend trust, you extend “credit” to another human being who is, well, human.  And people make mistakes. They can disappoint you, lead you astray, or drop the ball. 

You might see mistrust as the best option if you've been let down. But Covey says this is a mistake. Over time, “People become a little bit more careful, more cautious, more guarded, more suspicious…perpetuating a vicious cycle of distrust and suspicion, creating more distrust and suspicion because none of us want to get burned.” 

Why Trust Is Worth the Risk

There’s always some risk involved in extending trust. But the benefits of extending it are well worth the potential downsides. Here’s why.

Productivity Flows

The fear of making mistakes can be paralyzing. But when leaders and employees cultivate trust—and refuse to punish honest mistakes—everyone works more effectively. In fact, Covey found that high-trust cultures have an average of 50% higher productivity.

Engagement Peaks

In low-trust environments, “going the extra mile” is risky. What if someone laughs at your idea? What if your feedback isn’t well-received? But when trust is present, employees feel comfortable stepping outside their comfort zones, speaking up, and trying new things.

Micromanagement Fades Away

In low-trust cultures, leaders tend to do a LOT of micromanaging. After all, if you don’t trust your team to deliver, that leaves execution to you! On the other hand, in high-trust cultures, leaders extend trust to employees regarding decision-making and execution. 

Stress, Burnout, and Employee Turnover Plummet

Mistrust requires constant vigilance—keeping a lookout for betrayal, inconsistencies, or mistakes. But trust creates psychological safety and a sense of security. 

Covey found that high-trust environments come with employees who report 74% lower stress, 40% less burnout, and significantly lower staff turnover

Balancing the Risk of Trust

While there’s no sense in extending trust to individuals you know are intentionally deceptive or unethical, Covey’s research reveals that it’s usually worth it to trust from the get-go rather than require people to prove themselves trustworthy. He offers a few suggestions for balancing the risk of trusting with the rewards:

  • Evaluate the other person’s credibility by assessing their character and competence. Then, based on what you know about them, decide if there are specific red flags.
  • Are there other people who can vouch for this person? If not, spend a little time getting to know them.
  • Determine the stakes if the other person breaks your trust. For example, is your job, personal safety, or reputation on the line? If so, it’s okay to scrutinize their credibility and character more closely.

Reflect and Apply

After reading this article, do you have a fresh perspective on the risks and rewards of trust? Share one “ah hah” insight you’d like to bring to your team or organization on Twitter using #SpeedofTrust.