The word “trust” has many layers of meaning. While most of us have similar general perspectives about what it means to trust another person, there are some subtle differences in how we view this simple word.
The words I often use to describe the two sides of trust are transactional trust and relational trust:
- Transactional trust refers to the trust we have that other people will do what they said they would do or that they will complete an assigned task.
- Relational trust refers to the trust we have that another person can listen to and understand our emotional state without passing judgment, criticizing, sharing it with others, or using the knowledge to somehow harm us.
At different times and in different situations, both components of trust can come into play in our interactions and relationships with other people. While most people experience and rely upon both trust components as they make decisions about how to interact with others, they tend to prioritize one over the other. For example:
- Leaders who focus heavily on task issues place a higher priority on transactional trust than relational trust. They focus more on whether people follow through on their commitments and complete their tasks. As a result, they have an easier time working with people they may not “like” because they trust that the person will get things done.
- Leaders who see the world through a relational filter often place a higher priority on relational trust than transactional trust. They focus more on whether people act in ways that build and protect relationships. They have an easier time working with a person they like, even if that person has challenges with meeting deadlines and completing tasks.
Likewise, team members with a task focus often place a higher priority on transactional trust between them and their leader than they do on relational trust. Team members with a relational focus place a higher priority on developing relational trust with their leader. As a leader, you need to understand both how you and your team members prioritize the two sides of trust so that you can focus your trust-building efforts in the area that will create the greatest immediate benefit.
To build trust with task-focused team members, focus on task completion and follow-through issues first and relationship issues second. To build trust with relationship-focused team members, focus on showing support and building a relationship first and task completion second.
Both forms of trust are important, and building high levels of both will contribute to creating a high-performing, high-functioning, results focused team. To get the greatest results in the shortest amount of time, know your team members and focus first in the area of greatest concern to them.
So think about the people you lead. How do they view trust? How have you been working to build trust with them? Does your approach fit their perspective? If it matches, good job! If not, adjust your approach to better connect with them.