Rebuilding a wall of trust

As we collectively face up to some of the challenges around the future of work, digitisation and globalisation the question and availability of trust becomes ever more important.  For society to collectively realise the opportunities on offer we have to be able to operate in an environment that is built around one of the most basic human values – trust.   It is the only way to navigate the unchartered territories that the world is moving into.

With that in mind the recent publication of the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer provides an alarming insight into the recent erosion of trust in society and is a call to action.  The analysis acts as a lens to understand why events like Brexit and the election of Trump happened and importantly what we can all do about it.

Trust is breaking down

The survey, collecting data from 28 countries with over 33,000 respondents, concludes that we are approaching a period where there is a ‘crisis in trust.’  There is a lack of trust across all major institutions in government, media and corporate organisations.   Leaders are singled out as having lost trust (with only 37% CEOs and 29% government officials viewed as very/extremely credible).    Worryingly there is an increasing gap in the breakdown of trust between the informed and mass public.

This is contributing to a predominant feeling that the system is failing and is being replaced with a culture where fear wins out.    Interestingly the findings report on the creation of an ‘echo chamber effect’.   This is caused by people seeking to only follow information sources that reinforce their own personal beliefs at the expense of shutting out the views of others (53% respondents do not regularly listen to opposing views).

Without trust where do we go?

Trust is one of the fundamental pillars of any relationship.  If you can’t trust someone where do you go from there?   The psychologist Amy Cuddy in her recent book Presence highlights the necessity of trust.    Her research indicates that there are two questions people answer when they meet someone new – can they trust you and can they respect you.    Trust is fundamental to any human relationship and without it we’re in trouble.

The findings highlight the need for us all collectively to work on building and establishing trust at all levels of society.  It’s easy to say this is down to a small elite group of ‘leaders’ to fix.   Ultimately the barometer shows that across the entire spectrum people are trusting people less whether this is at work, home or in local communities.   We all need to do something about it.

Rebuilding trust

This is a wake-up call and all institutions need to reflect on what they can do to re-establish trust with their customers and their people.   The question of trust needs to be at the forefront of their agendas

Paul Zak’s recent research provides some practical insight into what organisations can do to increase trust.   His research has shown when people trust others there is an increase of the chemical oxytocin in the brain.    Importantly this chemical can be stimulated in organisations through the reinforcement eight specific behaviours.   The behaviours cover areas like recognising excellence, providing autonomy, focusing on personal relationships, showing vulnerability, sharing information and facilitating personal growth.

But you could just simply summarise it to be “treat people the way you want to be treated.”   Reach out, collaborate and work with others and make this a priority.

The other area organisations and institutions need to face into is the learning and education agenda.   60% of the respondents in the Trust Barometer report a fear of losing their job through lack of skills and training.   Against the backdrop of automation, digitisation and globalisation this is hardly surprising.

Our educational and learning systems need to step up to the challenge.    There needs to be a fundamental rethink in how we promote life-long learning for all to help reduce fear and inequality.    We can’t simply keep putting people through schooling at the start of their careers and wait for retirement   It won’t work in a world where we are likely to have over 10 career changes.

The recent learning survey in the Economist provides some excellent insight into how to do this.   Ultimately we need to support people with both the personal and technical skills to be able to create new careers throughout their life-time.

But ultimately we all have a part to play

It would be easy to conclude that the whole issue or rebuilding trust is down to leaders to address.   This is simply passing the buck and we all have a part to play in rebuilding and establishing trust.

The echo chamber is a case in point.  We think that with technology we collaborate and learn more.    But in reality it can just become a vocal reinforcement of our own beliefs.   We build our own digital walls to help reinforce our own positions whilst failing to empathise or listen to other people’s views or opinions.     We all need to get out more, embrace diversity and individual differences and seek to see things from another perspective.

Looking ahead

Whilst the barometer makes for some pretty bleak findings there is hope provided we take the right action.   Ultimately we all have a part to play in rebuilding trust and that is a wall worth building.

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