The Thin Book of Trust: An Essential Primer for Building Trust at Work

By Charles Feltman

True confession: in my misspent youth, I was known to resort to Cliff Notes to complete those dratted literature essays. That may be why I am drawn to the Thin Book series (see another Thin Book review.) Despite their small size, this series is a real asset in that it offers us quick reads on some challenging topics.

I was attracted to Feltman’s book because issues of trust permeate the corporate world. Decades of downsizing, outsourcing, offshoring and other management practices have eroded trust and loyalty among workers. Even good leaders face employees who are disengaged and distrustful of management messages. Distrust can sabotage a work relationship, lower productivity and create stress, and anxiety for everyone. To be successful, leaders cannot afford to ignore perceptions of distrust in their organizations.

Feltman goes beyond the “walk the talk” bromide to create a four-part model for trust. He describes trust as being present under the following conditions:

  • Sincerity – the perception that you are honest, you say what you mean and mean what you say. When you express an opinion it is valid, useful and backed up by sound thinking and evidence. Your actions align with your words.
  • Reliability – you meet the commitments that you make, you keep promises.
  • Competence – you have the ability to do what you are expected to do; you have the requisite capacity, skill, knowledge and resources to do the job.
  • Care – you have the other person’s interest in mind as well as your own when you make decisions and take actions.

Taken together, these four components go beyond the simple walk-the-talk definition to create a more fulsome set of behaviors. I especially value the addition of the care component. It is difficult to extend trust to a person who is self-serving, whose motives are centered on their own agendas or who give little thought to the impact of their decisions on others. They may keep commitments and align their words and actions but I would still find it difficult to risk something I value to their actions.

Feltman devotes a chapter to each of the components, giving examples of what it would look like in work settings. He provides specific questions to use to determine if the component is an issue in your work relationships. Each chapter ends with actions and activities you can use to help build the component yourself. These actions are thoughtful and pragmatic; for example, in the “care” chapter, he challenges leaders to let people know that they understand how their decisions affect them, especially if the decision is adverse. The leaders must then listen to the issues and concerns and focus on the common interest or value in the decision. Sounds simple yet often business decisions are executed without a careful look at adverse impacts on others.

The Thin Book of Trust ends with two very powerful chapters. Chapter 7 challenges us to confront people who we distrust, identify the specific reasons why we distrust the individual and then have a conversation with the person to try and repair the trust issues. Feltman gives the reader a five step process to use to structure this difficult conversation. This process is an invaluable tool to use to put critical work relationships on more solid ground. Chapter 8 is the other half of repairing trust relationships. It outlines the steps needed when you discover that you have betrayed someone’s trust. Taken together, these two chapters give the reader a blueprint to use to create healthy, supportive and trusting work relationships.

The Thin Book of Trust is a valuable asset to any business library. I personally plan to share it with my coaching clients to help them build their trustworthiness, a critical competency for any leader to have.