Building Trust in Your Coaching Relationships

Building trust in your safety management planA big part of your safety management plan should include coaching, and a coaching relationship must be based on trust. Knowing you can count on someone is a large part of what trusting that person is about. If people see us as providing good information, making reasonable judgments, meeting our commitments to them, and maintaining confidentiality, then we have gone a long way toward building their trust in us.

How Others Perceive Your Coaching Information

Others’ perception of the reliability of our information is critical, especially if it affects decisions they make. People seldom deliberately give unreliable information with an intent to deceive. More often, unreliable information is a result of carelessness or failure to see the others’ point of view. Consider the following:

  • Is it Accurate and Complete?50 things you must know about safety leadership

Passing on speculative or partial information can affect your reliability. Even though the information is accurate, its incompleteness may mislead people — and cause distrust when they learn the parts you left out.

  • Do you have hidden motives?

One way to erode trust is to appear to have hidden motives. There’s nothing wrong with having your own motives; nor is there any reason you shouldn’t benefit from the information you pass on. But when this is the case, it is important to make your motives known beforehand to prevent mistrust later.

  • Are you knowledgeable?

Before providing information to others, make sure your sources are accurate. Test them out, if necessary, to be sure that the information you relay is correct; and let people know if you have suspicions about the accuracy of your source.

  • Is your information “colored”?

We give our interpretation of information by the way we present it, and that interpretation biases the way people receive it. If this bias becomes excessive, people begin to question our objectivity.

  • Is the information too old?

How Others Perceive Your Judgment

No one’s decisions are always successful, and no reasonable person expects them to be. What we usually expect from those we trust is that they make what appear to be reasonable decisions, given the circumstances. Consider:

  • Clarity of the decision-making process

If decisions seem “well thought out,” they create an impression of reliability. This means that for people to trust our judgment they may need to know something about how we arrive at decisions. All too often, when decisions are announced, very little of the thinking that went into them is passed along. This can breed distrust if the decisions appear arbitrary to those not involved in them.

  • Political basis for decisions

If people always seem to make decisions that are “politically right” rather than “business right,” their judgment is thrown into question. If politics seems to be the major factor in decision-making, doubts as to the soundness of your judgment will arise.

  • Short-term, or narrowly-focused decisions

Showing a short-term focus, or narrow viewpoint, will cause people to question the reliability of your judgment. It is important to clarify the link between decisions and the overall mission or long term strategy.

  • Vacillation

If you change your position, be able to cite information or reasoning that led you to do so.

The Importance of Keeping Commitments

Few of us deliberately intend to violate commitments. More often we find ourselves “caught” despite good intentions. And when this impacts your safety management plan, the consequences are costly. Here are some guidelines for avoiding situations which erode trust in how well we keep commitments:

  • Never commit to something just to end a discussion. Make a vow to yourself that “I will never commit to an action unless I really intend to give it full effort.”
  • Don’t overload yourself so that you’re forced to reschedule commitments.
  • If unforeseen circumstances affect your delivery on a commitment, notify the other party as soon as you become aware of the problem.
  • Never unilaterally decide to change a commitment without first discussing it with the other party.
  • Provide support as promised. When people agree to support each other on an issue and then fail to come through, serious trust problems can occur. Failures to provide promised support usually occur for one of two reasons. First, people sometimes decide, on thinking things over, that the issue is too risky. Second, they may get new information that causes a change in their position. When either occurs, we have a responsibility to let others know of the change immediately, so that they can decide how to proceed. Few things are as uncomfortable as marching into the fray, secure in the support of others, only to find that you’re all alone.

Maintaining Confidentiality

Confidentiality can be a powerful factor in trust. The law recognizes this in the right of confidentiality between lawyer and client. If you want to be seen as trustworthy, don’t betray a confidence, even to your best friend. If you feel you must tell someone else, you have an obligation to let the other person know immediately so that she can take any action necessary.

fctc-online-bannerIn effective coaching relationships there is typically a high level of trust, and this is particularly important when your safety management plan and safety culture are at stake. Keys to establishing trust include passing on reliable information, displaying good judgment, keeping commitments, and maintaining confidentiality. These are the kinds of behaviors that each party, coach and coachee, should expect from each other. In addition to being just good work practices, they are critical for leaders introducing strategic change, such as moving to a safety culture from a compliance culture.

How do you measure up?

~Gene Drumm

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About the Author

safetyBUILT-IN is the safety-leadership learning and development division of SCInc. We believe sustainable safety performance is best achieved through a core-values based safety culture, and that culture must be driven by leadership. Our safety-leadership programs are competency-based, and focused on performance outcomes. We believe in building capability and ownership into our client organizations—as well as sustainability into our programs—so that our clients can continue running those programs long after we’re out of the picture. Our emphasis is on building better leadership presence, better leadership communication and better leadership coaching by first building relationships of trust with people and learning how to engage them on the level of their core values and beliefs.