Trust & Betrayal in the Workplace

Snooping around a co-worker's desk is a surefire way to breach trust.
i Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

Snooping around a colleague's desk and escalating an email exchange by copying every boss and his boss to a reply are just a couple of workplace behaviors that erode trust. They might seem minor, but in time "these minor betrayals eat away at us, until one day we either mentally check out or physically walk out,” Dr. Dennis Reina, founder of The Reina Trust Building Institute, told the Center for Creative Leadership. While misunderstandings between co-workers and bosses are generally inevitable, understanding the behaviors that kindle trust or spark betrayal can help you decide how to respond to them.

The Benefits of Trust

Engagement, innovation, top performance, quality service, and higher returns are five benefits fostered by a work environment steeped in trust. When employees feel that their contributions as individuals and as teams matter, they're more likely to be authentic in the workplace and genuinely help one another. These behaviors boost performance and spark innovative ideas that enhance quality and service. In the long run, these behaviors benefit the company and its clients, boosting bottom line results.

Behaviors that Strengthen Trust

Treating others with respect, assuming responsibility for mistakes, being considerate towards others, being authentic towards others, and acting on honorable intentions are just a few ways of strengthening trust. If you make a mistake in an important document, accept full responsibility for it. If a colleague has a sick parent or child, take time to ask them how their loved one has been feeling. Genuinely caring about the people you spend your eight-hour workday with means a lot in the long run, and it all starts by paying attention to yourself, your intentions, your actions, your commitments, and your behaviors.

Behaviors that Diminish Trust

Copying every manager and his boss to a heated email exchange, making promises you can't deliver, lying or telling half-truths, finger-pointing, rummaging through your colleague's desk while they're away, telling everyone about a colleague who upset you without addressing the person in question are all behaviors that scream distrust. While most breaches of trust are unintentional, they can be extremely harmful over time, breeding competitiveness and animosity among co-workers. In these work environments, productivity plummets, morale wanes, and turnover rates soar.

Coping with Betrayal

If you've experienced betrayal at the hands of an untrustworthy colleague or supervisor, the Center for Creative Leadership suggests that you take time to acknowledge and allow your feelings about the experience to surface so that you can discuss them with a trusted friend, relative, co-worker, or therapist. Having someone help you understand the experience from a different perspective will help you find closure by taking responsibility for what happened, forgiving the other person, and finally letting it go.

the nest