Trust between co-workers is extremely important. One of the best studies of trust to date was a meta-analysis of 132 independent studies on trust and its outcomes. This study found that trust increased an individual’s task performance, risk taking behavior, citizenship behavior (doing more to help others at work), and decreased counterproductive behavior.
Trust is an attitude that represents our willingness to be vulnerable to others in situations involving risk. As an attitude, trust can change over time as our knowledge of those we have close relationships with (e.g. employees, peers, boss) develops. We learn how trustworthy people are as we observe their abilities, integrity, and intentions (benevolence) toward us.
Before the attitude of trust develops, the degree to which we trust and are trusted by others is determined by our personality. This propensity to trust (PT) represents the belief that some people are more (or less) likely to trust others they meet and work with.
A recent study of 66 teams published in the Journal of Applied Psychology sheds new light on the importance of trusting personalities to the development of trust in teams. The study found reciprocal effects for high PT, such that individuals with high PT were more likely to view team members as trustworthy, and in turn were more likely to be viewed as trustworthy by other team members. This effect was true for both virtual and co-located teams.
If teamwork is important in your organization, then this study suggests you should select and promote individuals with a high propensity to trust. Here is a simple way to evaluate PT in yourself and others:
Are you (is this) the type of person that trusts people until you have a reason to believe they are not trustworthy, or are you (is this) the type of person that does not trust until you know for sure people are trustworthy?
There is no substitute for proven performance, integrity, and caring about what you do and who you do it with at work. People with a high PT are not necessarily more likely to be high performers and otherwise good organizational citizens. But the personality of someone with a low propensity to trust may lead them to see positive outcomes less in others, and that has a huge impact on the morale, learning, and development of trust in your teams.
Bret L. Simmons, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Management in the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), where he teaches courses in organizational behavior, leadership, and personal branding to both undergraduate and MBA students. Bret blogs about leadership, followership, and social media at his website Positive Organizational Behavior. You can also find Bret on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin.
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