When we trust our colleagues--whether they are fellow members of the leadership team, direct reports, or staff from another department--we have confidence in their abilities. We know they share our commitment to a specific, positive outcome. They are all in, engaged with us, their work, and the organization.
Trust is the backbone of every relationship and the key to good communication. Trust plays a role in every interaction. When you and your coworker trust one another, you can have a serious disagreement (even one that gets heated) without damaging your sense of loyalty and connection. So trust is not about agreement.
At its core, trust is about mutual respect and consistently showing up in such a way that your words match your actions. That's how we build trust in our relationships. But how do we know if we can trust our coworker, especially if they have violated that trust in the past?
Four questions to ask to determine if your colleague is trustworthy.
If you find yourself feeling unsettled, angry, or confused after a conversation with your colleague, it can help to view the interaction through the lens of trust. Whether you are concerned about determining the trustworthiness of a new colleague or if you notice an unexpected shift in behavior or demeanor of a long-time coworker, take a step back and ask yourself these four questions.
1. Does your colleague's behavior demonstrate their commitment?
Do you have reason to doubt your coworker's commitment to you, the team, or the organization? If they miss deadlines or cancel appointments, it could be because they are not as committed to their work as they once were. But don't jump to conclusions too quickly. What appears to be a lack of commitment might be due to extenuating circumstances, such as being overloaded with work or an illness in the family.
2. Is your colleague respectful when they engage with you?
Think back to the last interaction you had with your colleague. Were they respectful and sincere, or did you feel as if they might be undermining, insulting, or ignoring you?
3. Is your colleague respectful when they engage with others?
Observe how your colleague communicates with other people, including clients, vendors, and other coworkers. Are they respectful? Do they listen to what the other person says before they respond, or do they cut people off or ignore their concerns?
4. Does your colleague own their part when conflicts arise?
When your colleague is engaged in or trying to resolve a conflict, do they take responsibility for the role they played, or do they make excuses for their behavior or blame the other person?
When determining whether a colleague is trustworthy, start by trusting your instincts. Trust that you are a good judge of character. Then take a moment to openly reflect on why you had a strong reaction or negative feeling about your coworker.
Think about whether they are worthy of receiving the benefit of the doubt, either because of your shared history, their past behavior, or their reputation. If so, it might be worth approaching them to discuss the matter. That not only gives you more clarity and understanding, but it gives them the opportunity to get the support they may need to get through a difficult time.
Going forward, pay attention while interacting with them.
Trust is necessary for relationships to thrive, and if something has shifted for you, don't ignore your reaction. If you have doubts, keep your concerns top of mind while engaging with your colleague. It's reasonable and appropriate to be somewhat protective of yourself. You can always be friendly and kind while being more guarded and less open.
Trust expands or contracts with each interaction and experience with someone. Be patient and give yourself time if you need it to assess, gain, or regain trust with your coworker. You can't rush it, but at least now you have a framework for evaluating a colleague's trustworthiness and know how to proceed if you find it lacking.