When we trust another person, we believe they have the integrity and strength to engage consistently. Our respect for another person is more a reflection of admiring them for their abilities or qualities.
Leaders often think trust and respect go hand in hand. After all, can you really trust someone if you don’t respect them? And how deep can respect be if the other person is not trustworthy?
What makes this marriage complex is the fact that both trust and respect hinge equally on the perceptions of the others’ character and competence. I might respect your skills and abilities to get the job done, but think you don’t hold the values of someone I can trust. Or, I may like you as person and trust your character, but think you are an incompetent boob and, therefore, disrespect your skills.
Let’s make what on the face seems simple even more complex. Treating people respectfully builds trust in both parties. In other words, being respectful creates feelings of trust, safety, and wellbeing on both sides of the ball.
Equally true is the idea that when we show people trust, we learn to respect them more. Because trust is something we confer on others, when we do, it influences how we see them, often producing more feelings of respect.
Of course, we can trust and respect people in slices or pieces rather than on the whole. We might respect a person’s ability to articulate what they say, but believe they don’t know what they’re talking about. Or, we might trust a person to keep our confidences, but expect them to be disloyal if a better offer is ever presented.
Once broken, trust is tremendously hard to repair. This is not as true for respect. New demonstrations of skill can sometimes boost feelings of respect rather quickly.
Respect seems to have levels for many people, as it grows with quality experiences. Trust, on the other hand, seems to be an all-or-nothing equation. Sort of trusting someone is usually seen as a reflection of distrust rather than something that will expand.
Just when we thought there was a simple marriage between two concepts that clearly go hand in hand, we learn upon reflection that our assumptions are not so solid. The complex nature of trust and respect explains, in part, why leadership is so hard. Leaders must give and earn trust and respect. Then again, if leadership was easy, everyone would do it.
How about the concept of “owed trust/respect” and “earned trust/respect”. Ie in the workplace perhaps owed trust/respect looks something like, “you’re a human, I’m a human, lets start with common decency in our interactions. You’ve got this job because someone thought you’re up to it”. Earned respect/trust looks like “you’ve been here a while now and you’re doing well.”
My thoughts are that the baseline “owed” allows teams to move to honest conversations which lead to improvements and optimal performance. What do you think?