Five Trust-Destroyers to Avoid

A colleague and I were talking about the importance of trust during a phone conversation the other day. After we ended our call, I continued thinking about the role of trust in education.

If trust exists in all of our relationships at school–with parents, with students, among staff–we get to focus on doing good work for students and communicating the good work we do.

If trust doesn’t exist in all of our relationships, we end up spending an inordinate amount of time explaining, defending, and questioning each other. That takes away from the time we have to focus on doing good work for our students.

When someone I don’t trust asks me to do something or tells me something, my mind starts racing with questions…

“Okay, that’s what she said but what did she really mean?”

“What is he trying to get me to do?”

“There’s got to be more to the story, I wonder what it is?”

“Is she trying to tell me something?”

“What’s the hidden agenda here?”

Even when I am asked to do a super reasonable thing that makes complete sense, if I am asked by someone I don’t trust, these questions run through my head.

On the flip side, if I am asked do something that is completely out of my comfort zone by someone I trust, I often will do it without question.

I knew trust was important before that conversation with my colleague, but I never thought about it in terms of efficiency and emotional health. Trust is not just important, trust is the platform we must have to do our best work for students.

Merriam-Webster defines trust as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.” If we want others to feel like they can rely on our character, ability, strength, or truth, we will want to avoid these five trust-destroyers:

  1. Being a salesperson. Think of the last salesperson you met at a furniture store or a car dealership. Do you jump for joy as they approach you, thinking that they have your best interests in mind? Effective leaders are not salespeople. They do not concern themselves with getting “buy in” from their staff because they are too busy working side-by-side when making decisions. These leaders are focused on developing mutual understanding of the why before they get to the what and how.
  2. Having hidden motives. When I first became the principal of Quincy Elementary, I distinctly remember teachers searching for my hidden motives. When I would share an article, individuals would wonder if it was aimed at them. I hadn’t built trust with the staff yet, so of course they wondered if I meant what I said. It takes time to establish enough trust for others to believe that you mean exactly what you say. And leaders must mean exactly what they say, all the time.
  3. Being passive aggressive. Oh man, can you even imagine a leader using passive aggressive tactics? Indirect insults, sarcasm, and giving the cold shoulder are a few of the behaviors that passive aggressive people use to send a message without direct confrontation. There is no trust when this happens. It seems obvious to say that leaders should avoid this at all costs and that passive aggressive people should not be leaders. If you think you might have a passive aggressive leader, this article may help.
  4. Making general statements to groups of people that are really only aimed at a few individuals. It makes it like a guessing game, called, “Who is our leader talking to this time?” One of the main problems with this game is that often the best and brightest mistakenly think it is aimed at them. These people are always self-evaluating and trying to get better, and they are dying for feedback. So, they take this feedback and run with it, even though it isn’t intended for them. And, they probably are feeling awful about themselves because of it.
  5. The sandwich method. Full disclosure, I used to do this when I first became a principal. I would give a staff member a compliment, then talk about the area for improvement, then give another compliment. I noticed a really bad trend in my conversations with staff:  they were always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even when I was just giving them a compliment, they were waiting for the area for improvement to follow. This strategy makes compliments meaningless and risks being unclear about the area for improvement.

To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved. -George McDonald

Let’s grow together as trustworthy leaders.

What questions go through your head when someone you don’t trust asks you to do something or gives you feedback?

What other trust-destroyers do you work hard to avoid?


4 thoughts on “Five Trust-Destroyers to Avoid”

  1. Allyson…such a great post! Trust is one of those things that seems easy to understand yet hard to cultivate sometimes. Have you heard of Brene Brown’s analogy for trust?
    She has a ‘must-do’ course for educators called Brave Leaders that you might find interesting. Thanks for shedding light on this important idea…without trust a school can be held hostage by the adult ‘stuff’ that gets in the way of learning for students!


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