uilding and rebuilding trust can be difficult. Without this vital quality in our workplace relationships, our work inevitably suffers.
Trust is “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person.” The inverse, distrust, means that what we value is not safe with this person in a particular situation. If we assume we cannot depend on our colleagues and leaders to care about what we deem important, it diminishes opportunity for meaningful connection. Trusting each other is what holds teams together.
But what makes up trust? The seven essential elements, as identified by Dr. Brené Brown, illuminates how we all want to believe we are trustworthy even though we may struggle to place our faith in others. Dr. Brown calls these seven elements the BRAVING inventory.
Boundaries: We are clear about what is ok and what is not ok. We respect each other’s boundaries. We are willing to say no.
Setting boundaries can be a tough especially in health care where we can tend to put everyone else’s needs before our own. It is difficult to operate in ambiguity, which is why clear expectations are an essential component of trust. For example, its ok to have emotions at work; its not ok to yell or shut someone down. Boundaries support self-respect and interpersonal respect, or as writer Prentis Hemphill says “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.”
Reliability: You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of our competencies and limitations so we don’t overpromise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.
Setting boundaries helps reinforce reliability. If we do not deliver on our commitments at work, our personal reliability will erode and the work will inevitably suffer.
Accountability: You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
How do you react to yourself and others when there are mistakes made? Do you get defensive? Or do you accept the mistake and move forward?
Vault: You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential.
Dr. Brown talks about the vault being another side of confidentiality. When someone tells you something they shouldn’t, how do you feel? Are you confident that they will not do the same to you?
Integrity: You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.
A tool Dr. Brown recommends for putting this into practice is identifying an integrity partner. Someone who we can check in with to make sure we are acting in our integrity. Someone who will be honest with us regarding a recent exchange or is willing to role play a difficult conversation.
Nonjudgment: I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment. We can ask each other for help without judgment.
Nonjudgment is a tough one. As humans, we have the natural inclination to judge everything. Because of this we are often afraid of being judged ourselves. When it comes to work, we are terrified of being judged for looking incompetent or lacking knowledge (Imposter syndrome anyone?). We may hate asking for help because of this fear. Interestingly enough, in Dr. Brown’s research, 1000 leaders were surveyed about what their team members do that earns their trust. The most common answer? Asking for help! When we ask for help, we demonstrate self-awareness, strength, and courage.
Generosity: You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.
Dr. Brown explains that assuming the best about people does not mean that we have to stop expecting people to grow and change. It's actually a commitment to stop respecting and evaluating people solely on what we think they should accomplish, and start respecting them for who they are and holding them accountable for what they are actually doing. This also relates to ourselves in the form of self-compassion.
Being kind to ourselves and reminding ourselves that we are doing the best we can right now.
Try it out on our own or with your team
How do we put these elements into practice in the workplace?
First, try an honest self-assessment. What is easy for you about each element? Where do you struggle?
Dr. Brown recommends working together with your team to identify one or two observable behaviors for each element. These behaviors should specify how your team wants to operationalize the elements. Each behavior should be something you are willing to do, be held accountable for doing, and hold others accountable for doing. Here’s a handy worksheet from Dr. Brown to help get you started.
These conversations can be uncomfortable at first. Remember the building of trust takes time and patience. By unpacking trust, you will be cultivating a safer, trusting, and ultimately more productive environment.