The Chemistry of Trust: 8 Ways to Build More of It

What if you could be the kind of leader whose team had increased energy, was more productive, collaborated better with their colleagues, and stayed with your organization longer? What if your people suffered less chronic stress and were happier with their lives?

In the Neuroscience of Trust, published in a recent issue of Harvard Business Review, Paul Zak suggests that you can be that kind of leader by increasing trust on your team. He proposes eight management behaviors to help you do so. In considering his ideas, I matched his suggestions up against the Business Chemistry types, knowing that different things make the various types tick. Here are the eight proposed behaviors and the types with which they’re most likely to be effective…

Induce “challenge” stress. Zak suggests that challenge stress, brought on by assigning teams difficult but achievable tasks, releases chemicals in our brains that increase social connections. This technique may be particularly effective for Drivers, who are more likely than the other types to report that they thrive in the face of challenging tasks. 1

Give people discretion in how they do their work. In other words, enable autonomy by allowing people to complete projects in their own way—if you trust your people, they’re more likely to trust you. When asked about autonomy, Pioneers and Drivers (particularly D-Scientists) say it’s more important to them than Integrators and Guardians do.

Enable job crafting. Job crafting means, in part, empowering people to choose which projects they work on. This technique may be particularly successful with Pioneers, who are the most likely type to say they thrive when they have opportunities to learn and try new things. Who knows better which work has the right level of “new” than your people themselves?

Share information widely. Zak suggests that lack of information about an organization’s direction can cause chronic stress among employees. Cultivating trust by sharing such information may be most essential with Guardians, who our research suggests experience the highest levels of stress, and are also the type most likely to say clear expectations are important to them.

Recognize excellence. A little recognition is likely to go long a long way for all types of people, but our research shows that Guardians and Integrators are more likely than Pioneers and Drivers to say that recognition is a key ingredient for them to thrive at work. Given that the work of these types can sometimes go unseen, acknowledging their contributions could be a particularly effective trust-builder with them.

Intentionally build relationships. Zak cites his own research suggesting that creating social ties at work improves performance. This may be particularly valuable with Integrators, who are the most relationship-focused type and also the most likely to say that working with people they enjoy is a priority for them. A little bit of focused attention to relationship-building can help in creating mutual trust.

Facilitate whole person growth. By whole-person growth Zak means helping people grow both professionally and personally, and that can mean different things for different people. While all the types put a high priority on a feeling of accomplishment, Drivers, particularly D-Commanders, are more likely than the other types to say advancement is important to them, while Guardians and Integrators prioritize work-life balance more than others, and Pioneers are the most likely type to say it’s important to know they’re making a difference in the world. When your people know you understand them and see them as people, not just employees, they’re more likely to put their trust in you.

Show vulnerability: As a leader, being vulnerable enough to ask for help when you need it is perhaps one of the scariest but most effective means of role-modeling trust. Doing so demonstrates to all types of people that asking for help is okay, that they can trust you enough to ask when they need it. By asking your people to have your back, you’ll show them that you’re going to have theirs. And isn’t that really what trust is all about?

Dr. Suz

Suzanne Vickberg, PhD (aka Dr. Suz)

Dr. Suz is the Greenhouse Team’s very own social-personality psychologist, which means she studies how people’s thoughts, behaviors and preferences are influenced by both who they are and the situations they’re in. She uses Business Chemistry to help teams explore how the mix of perspectives brought by their individual members influences their work together. Follow her on Twitter @DrSuzBizChem

1Research findings in this post are based on a study with 13,885 professionals of varying levels working outside Deloitte, in the US and elsewhere. Participants represent more than 1,200 organizations across various industries, and 115 countries overall. During the period of February, 2016 to November, 2016 participants completed the Business Chemistry assessment online and also answered questions about their career aspirations, career priorities, and the working conditions under which they thrive. For each question, respondents were asked to select their top three options out of a list of 10. The margin error for this sample is less than two percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level, for all Business Chemistry types.