I have been thinking a great deal about trust lately. It is one of those things, like integrity, which you can more easily spot by its absence. What is trust and how to do we build it?
Today, I was reminded of an incident that happened at work, not long after I had started my job. I had been enrolled in the pension scheme and my paperwork from the pension company had come through to my home address. When I read through it all, I was horrified to find that the pension company actively assumed that I had a husband, in order to provide me with projected figures for future pension payments. There was no recognition of the fact that equal marriage has been legal in much of the UK for several years now and that it was possible for me to have a wife, rather than a husband.
I wrote a letter of complaint to the pension company but also wanted my employer to understand how offensive this all was to me. I was a little hesitant, as I was new in post and the workforce appeared to be entirely heterosexual. I sent an email to the CEO and the two senior managers with responsibility for my team and for finance. I outlined my concerns and also explained why I felt so strongly about this issue – as someone who, in the relatively recent past, had been denied rights around employment, access to services, marriage equality etc. All three people I sent the email too are busy folk and I had no expectation of a rapid response.
Within an hour of sending my email, the CEO came to see me at my desk to thank me for my email, understood my concerns and confirmed that, when the pension scheme was being reviewed, they would consider my experience. One senior manager came to see me within the day and apologised for not responding sooner. The head of finance wrote to the pension company, saying that their wording and assumptions were not acceptable.
That day, that experience, showed me that I was truly welcomed and valued as my whole self at work. It gave me confidence to be open about who I am, in all my fullness. It built trust with those colleagues and showed me that the values of the organisation were not just words written in documents, but were being actively lived out in how staff were being looked after. If any of those three colleagues had emailed me within a week to acknowledge my concerns, that would have been great and would have totally met my expectations. The rapid response by all three and the fact that two of them came to talk face to face meant so much.
Brené Brown compares building trust with putting marbles in a jar. Each time you do or say something that helps me to trust you, it is like me giving you a marble to put in a jar. Trust is built through lots of little incidents over a long period of time, and the marble jar gets filled up. When occasionally, a large or significant event comes along, the marble jar is full from little moments to trust someone in the big moments.
We may never know when someone has quietly put a marble in our trust jar, because of what we have said or done. All we can do is keep saying and doing those small things that tell someone that we care about them and that their life and their experiences matter to us. That is how we build trust.