In an effort to err on the side of caution, many of us approach our bosses, employees and peers with skepticism because we want to be prepared if someone doesn’t follow through on their responsibilities or lets us down in some other way. While some skepticism is reasonable, we must be careful not to let these attitudes slip into mistrust.
Mistrust occurs when we begin to assume others are trying to take advantage of us. For example, a business leader might assume that when employees raise concerns, they are inflating issues to get out of work or to get higher pay. Alternatively, an employee may assume that in assigning them more work, their boss is intentionally overworking them.
The truth could be exactly the opposite. Perhaps the employee is raising concerns to seek expertise from the boss. And maybe the boss is assigning the employee extra work because they believe the employee will do an excellent job.
In any such case, if we get it wrong and assume people are selfish and untrustworthy when they are actually being generous, constructive and trustworthy, we are doing them a disservice, insulting them in highly unfair ways—AND sowing the seeds for conflict, antagonism and resentment. Rather than adopting an attitude of mistrust, we must practice real discernment, which often requires us to have open conversations with those around us to get to the truth of the matter.
In this article in strategy+business, People Are More Trustworthy Than You Think, I discuss how to recognize when you are falling into potentially misplaced mistrust, and how to test your assumptions. This is not to say you should default to blind trust, but that your assessment has really high stakes—so it is worth taking the time to check out where others are coming from.
All the best,