Network Leadership

How do you measure trust?

We’ve all been there before: You have a colleague at work who’s typically less than reliable. When you email them a question, they rarely responds. Sometimes you get something back weeks later. When you work together on assignments, they fail to deliver with vague excuses. He openly discusses how he wants another job, and rejects criticism by lashing out. How much did you trust them? Do you think they trust you?

We all have to manage relationships in our professional work. Whether they’re coworkers, organizational partners, funders or volunteers, collaborating and working with others to reach shared goals is becoming a cornerstone of the network way of working. Trust sits at the foundation of these relationships: Without it, the scenario above can be a reality, draining your time and energy fast. One way to improve your relationships and partnerships is to evaluate your levels of trust: by identifying where you want strong trust, and where it’s lacking, you can work on improving things for the future.

Why Not Just Ask People If They Trust Me?

Through more than a decade of research, Visible Network Labs has identified and perfected a three-indicator method for measuring trust. This is important, because it allows us to measure it without having to ask people “How much do you trust this person?” Such a personal question rarely gets you accurate responses… your coworker or partner knows you’ll see the answer, even if you’ve promised not to take it personally. However our system has been validated through research to really measure trust using the PARTNER Tool for organizational network analysis. We ask about three indicators for trust that are proven to get you more accurate answers. Here’s how it works:

Reliability is a Key Indicator of Trust

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In our example above, one of the tell-tale signs of a relationship lacking trust is a perception of unreliability. When you give someone tasks, do they actually do them? Are they late or sloppy? Do they do them at all? How reliable are you? Relationships are a two-way street, and both parties must be reciprocal to fully develop trust. Keep your word and be on time and your reliability will grow with others. Here are a few more tips on becoming a more reliable partner.

Mission Alignment Builds Trust

It’s hard to trust someone you know has a goal contrary to your own. Working with someone open about how they want to leave your company isn’t the way to develop a trust-filled partnership. In reality, no two coworkers or organizational partners share identical goals. We usually agree on some things, while differing in the details. The key is not ignoring the differences, but remembering the agreements to form the core of your partnership, and a place of refuge to return to when necessary. Our CEO, Dr. Danielle Varda, wrote a great paper recently on mission-alignment, with some strategies for making the most of a complex situation. Find that here.

An Openness to Communication Demonstrates Trust

When someone is unwilling to take advice or feedback, we feel unvalued, ignored, and sometimes insulted. It degrades trust in a heartbeat. Communication is important both ways, in being willing to be open and honest with someone, and respect when they are honest with you. There is a reason we say that we get our most honest feedback from our closest friends and colleagues: we trust them, and they trust us enough to tell it like it is. There’s a lot you could say about communicating better, so here are a few.

How We Measure Trust: The PARTNER Tool

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Using these three indicators: reliability, mission-alignment, and openness to communication, we are able to quantify the level of trust between various organizational partners. Our organizational network analysis tool, PARTNER, uses this system to help you visualize the structure and quality of your relationships, including trust and other metrics. Each relationship is displayed on a network map, with scores in 9 metric areas. Using that data and our peer-learning environment, you can identify gaps and create a strategy for the future to improve. Leveraging your network better means better collaboration, and improved outcomes.

A Reminder: More Isn’t Always Better

Remember, in networks, more is not always better. So while we might think we need to work on increased trust, Network Leaders balance when even a small amount is enough to reach our goals. To learn more about Network Leadership and creating a data-driven strategy, click here to learn about the upcoming Network Leadership Training Academy, April 15-17 in Denver, CO.

About the Author


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Alex Derr is the Communications Strategy Coordinator for Visible Network Labs. He manages our communications and marketing strategy, runs our social media and web presence, & creates resources, Guides and other content to share with our community. He’s working on his MPA with a focus on environmental policy at UC-Denver. You can learn more about Alex and the rest of our team here.

Reach Alex: Alex@visiblenetworklabs.com

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