Deciding Who to Trust at Work

Most of you won't be able to get your job done unilaterally. You'll need to work well with a range of contacts and colleagues to achieve outcomes of benefit to your employer. One of the issues you need to manage as you set about doing this is whom to trust and over what.

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Trust is a central issue at work and a very individual one. Different people decide to trust on the basis of quite different factors. But usually the decision to trust – in other words the choice to extend trust to a colleague or workplace contact - is based on evidence of behaviour that you have observed or experienced often enough that you have faith in it. Deciding whom to trust and over what is one of the ultimate judgement calls at work, and being wise over whom to trust and over what is a learned skill.

So what is trust as it applies to the workplace? The following definitions of what trust is and what trust is not come from Mayer et al (1995). Trusting a colleague or workplace contact does not mean that you:

  1. Think they are infallible and therefore are unlikely to make a genuine error.
  2. Have complete confidence in what they say and do, or everything pertaining to how they go about their work.
  3. Agree with everything they say, every view they put out there, or every opinion or statement they offer.
  4. Can reliably predict how they will approach every circumstance at work in which they are involved.

Instead, to extend trust to a colleague means that, in the main, you have formed the view that your colleague or workplace contact is likely to:

  1. Approach their duties in ways that you can work with.
  2. Handle themselves with enough integrity for you to be comfortable working alongside them.
  3. Apply themselves consistently towards achieving the goals associated with their role.

So, how might this research apply to your work? Recall an instance of when you were experiencing difficulty working effectively with a particular colleague or contact. This person could be a peer of yours, a manager or a member of your team. Think back over your interactions with them and consider whether the difficulties between you occurred because you two had different values, different aims for the joint work you were engaged in, and / or different priorities. If any of these factors ring true then, in and of themselves, they do not point towards an untrustworthy side to your colleague, irking though working with them might prove to be. You two are simply sufficiently different that you find it requires more time and effort than usual to negotiate a viable way of working together so that you can get things done in ways which make sense to both of you.

But if that’s not it, and your difficulties with this colleague or contact occurred for another set of reasons, then perhaps it was because you were dealing with someone whose behaviour called their character into question sufficiently often that you came to view working with them as troubling or discomforting. In this case, evaluating their behaviour against criteria for trustworthiness might help you pinpoint exactly what character traits they exhibit which are problematic for you.

You might like to review your interactions with this colleague or contact using the following questions which I have developed from the findings of Drucker (1997) and Sinetar (1988):

  1. To what extent does your colleague or contact fail to act towards you with sufficient integrity? In other words, to what extent do they fail to act in concert with their stated beliefs and / or fail to do what they said they would do by when they said they would do it?
  2. To what extent do they fail to act reliably towards you? In other words, to what extent do they fail to keep their commitments to you or fail to act in a responsible manner towards you?
  3. To what extent do they fail to demonstrate active goodwill towards you? In other words, to what extent do they fail to act faithfully towards you or fail to honour their relationship with you?
  4. To what extent do they fail to be dependable in their dealings with you? In other words, to what extent do they fail to use behaviour which is, in the main, straightforward and steady?

Aryanne Oade

chartered psychologist, executive coach, author and publisher, Oade Associates Ltd

Hello and welcome to my blog. I specialize in handling challenging workplace dynamics, successfully working from the premise that the additional resources you seek are already within you. My aim is to be a catalyst so you can turn areas where you feel under-resourced or vulnerable into skills and strengths, become resilient in the face of adversity, and develop a life and work experience you are passionate about. Working from the evidence-base of psychology, and over twenty-five years’ experience, clients tell me they experience my coaching and books as insightful, practical, non-judgmental and empathic. My work on recovery from bullying and bully-proofing has been featured in leading publications such as The Independent, Irish Independent (Sunday), Psychologies, Good Housekeeping and Marie Claire. Learn more at