All posts by cdv

Head of Organisational Development at University of Kent. Change Academy 2011 member.

Is Re-building Trust Worth the Effort?

By Cindy Vallance

My last blog covered many of the reasons behind the erosion and destruction of trust. Not a very positive topic, I know.

The good news, however, is that once trust has been damaged all may not be lost.

If you have broken someone’s trust in you, the very first step is to assume ownership of your own actions. RECOGNISE where trust may have been broken, ACKNOWLEDGE your actions, ADMIT your lapse, and APOLOGISE to the individual whose trust in you has been shaken.

To re-establish the relationship, it will be important to reaffirm your commitment to the values and goals you share with the other person. It is important to be willing to incur some personal loss as you start by rebuilding basic trust. Sound difficult? Make no mistake, it is. Too hard? That is up to you to decide. Sometimes a third party can assist with this.

Whether you work directly with the other individual or through a third party, when it comes to managing distrust and working to re-establish trust, it is important to agree explicitly on expectations, deadlines and agreed remedies. Agree how these will be monitored or verified and work to increase awareness of each others’ actions.

It will be important to openly acknowledge areas of difference and incompatibility – agreement cannot be achieved on everything but it should be possible to minimise the interference of incompatible areas in daily activities, particularly if agreement can be achieved about overall shared goals and values.

Looking back, It is hard to believe I have devoted no less than 8 blogs to the topic of trust. But then again, I suppose it is because I feel so strongly about this topic and we really don’t bring it into the work place very much. Yet so much rides on trust. And it all starts with each of us.

The quote I began this series on trust with was: “You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible. ” Anton Chekhov

No one said any of this would be easy but then again, if you would like a reason to try building trust with others in a more contemporary quote, Canadian ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky did say “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”


Trust – Broken in a Heartbeat

By Cindy Vallance

Trust is broken all too easily when expectations are violated.

There are a host of ways to damage trust. Once again, the most productive way to approach this topic is to reflect on what we can do. This is where we have control to make decisions and take actions.

So what behaviours damage trust?

Coercive or threatening behaviour will break trust and can be overt or more subtle. Blaming staff or co-workers for personal mistakes as well as making unfair or wrong accusations will also damage trust. Withholding promised support or breaking promises to others is another cause. Showing favouritism or discrimination will certainly damage trust as will lying, stealing others’ ideas, or wrongfully taking credit for others’ work. If we misuse private information or disclose others’ secrets they will hesitate to share with us again.

Eroding trust can be very easy – we can erode the trust others have in us simply by acting in a way that is overly controlling or by excluding others in an information loop. Engaging in harmful gossip with a “divide and conquer” approach will make the person on the receiving end wonder when their own actions will be the next topic on the gossiper’s lips – except this time sharing the ‘hot’ topic with someone else.

Have you ever engaged in any of these behaviors? Have I? Of course. But can I make a concentrated and conscious effort to avoid engaging in trust destroying actions? Yes but only if I make the decision to do so. The same is true for all of us.

And of course, the erosion or destruction of trust is much more complex than simply focusing on current behaviours.

Does the person whose trust we have broken have a predisposition to forgive? Has the breach been one time or is there a history of trust violation? What is the degree of the breach? Has damage been avoided or has it been incurred?

And what are the remedial measures? What is needed and what is possible? An explanation, an apology, a remedy?

My final blog on the topic of trust will look at ways to repair broken trust and manage distrust.

Trust Wasn’t Built in a Day

By Cindy Vallance

I wrote recently about different types of trust: individual approaches to thinking and feeling as well as broader organisational trust. Today I am going to focus on how we can build the trust that people have in us.

It all starts with some honest self reflection.

Let’s begin with the individual level. Trust increases or decreases depending on the behaviours that we demonstrate. Ask yourself: Am I CONSISTENT between my ‘talk’ and ‘walk?’ Do I keep my promises and tell the TRUTH? Do I demonstrate this consistency over time and across situations by MEETING DEADLINES and FOLLOWING THROUGH on planned activities and promises? If so, these behaviours will help others to see that they can predictably rely on us to deliver on what we have committed to.

Trust can be developed through DELEGATION OF CONTROL as well. How can we do this? Ask: Do I ensure staff are provided with a voice and participate in decision-making by encouraging opportunities that allow them to influence areas where they have knowledge and interest?

DEMONSTRATING GENUINE CONCERN is another way to build trust. Again, some questions we can ask ourselves: Do I show consideration and sensitivity for others’ needs and interests? Do I refrain from exploiting others for my own agenda?

COMMUNICATION also builds trust. Once again,  ask: Do I provide accurate information, explanations for decisions, and take an open rather than a ‘need to know’ approach? Do I work with my team to develop a collective identity, shared goals and a commitment to commonly shared values?

When it comes to organisational trust, much depends on the perceptions people in the organisation have of JUSTICE and FAIRNESS. A balance must also be struck between CENTRALISATION and FORMALISATION of systems and processes with more general GUIDELINES that provide opportunities to make mistakes and learn. Having rules for every conceivable situation can never be successful – no policy guidebook that attempted this would ever be complete.

Organisational trust also means promoting a safe environment for RISK-TAKING with a tolerance for a certain amount of inevitable failure, as well as a sense of INCLUSIVENESS and VALUING PEOPLE.

Sadly, it can sometimes all go horribly wrong. Why? What happens when trust erodes or is even broken? And what can we do to fix it? More on that next time.


Why Bother with Blogs? Learning from U of K Students

By Cindy Vallance (Twitter @cdvallance)

Before I went on leave a couple of weeks ago, I promised to come back to the topic of trust. I will do so – because I believe that trust is a key foundational element to consider when accomplishing anything important that involves two or more people.

But today I want to share my thinking about blogs. A blog about blogs? Let me explain.

As part of the Social Sciences Change Academy initiative we agreed we wanted to find ways to communicate and build a dialogue with academic staff, professional services staff and students that went beyond emails, meetings, and standard website updates. My own decision to begin blogging and using twitter as part of Change Academy was informed in large part by the example set by Colum McGuire, Kent Union Vice President (Welfare). Colum wrote a great blog series about student housing last year that received an amazing amount of ‘hits.’ You can find Column’s blogs here:

His blogs kept me engaged and reading, even though I wasn’t looking for a new place to live! They were lively and practical, short and sharp.

Moving along, we have even more excellent student initiated blog posts. Tom Ritchie, Kent Union President, has shared his thoughts about the value of Change Academy here:

And my learning about blog writing hasn’t stopped there.

Another of our Change Academy members, Léo Wilkinson, Kent Union’s Social Sciences Student Representative, posted his first Change Academy blog on 12 May 2012.

Léo’s blog is a thought piece and call to action to continue to increase meaningful student involvement in decision-making.

Also on 12 May, and completely unrelated to Change Academy, is the blog I came across on twitter by Kenny Budd, Kent Union’s Vice President (Activities) about their Kent Union team development event at Medway:

Once again, a phenomenal blog – informal yet professional, personal yet factual, with great images and important messages including his remark:  “When asked if I thought the fact that we will be an all white, male sabbatical team was an issue (on the grounds of representing our diverse membership) my answer was “that it is always going to be an issue but it will only become a problem if we let it.”

So how do we look at the challenges of continuously improving communications between our diverse constituencies here at U of Kent? Is it an issue we can work on solving together or a problem? We all have our own reasons for being here but as a community Kent belongs to all of us. What can we learn from each other?

I learn every day, from students and colleagues, from reading, talking, observing, and thinking. I don’t always agree with those I interact with but I appreciate gaining insights from divergent views. In fact, a wise person once said to me “If two people always agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.”

We are all necessary, we all have valuable contributions to make to our Kent  community. As a first step, bookmark some student blogs, make comments on what you read, follow students on twitter, and see what you can learn.

Trusting Types


By Cindy Vallance
There are many types of learning styles – and none are better than any other. Some people prefer to focus on PRACTICAL TIPS, others want to understand the IDEAS behind the practice and still others prefer to focus purely on their own EXPERIENCE – those who prefer the last probably aren’t reading this at all.
I personally like all of these styles so be warned – this blog is just about ideas, with not a practical tip in sight. In my last blog, I mentioned that it is possible to trust and distrust the same person in different contexts. Why is this the case?

When it comes to trusting iINDIVIDUALS, there are two types of trust.
Cognition based trust (thinking)
– is typical of many work-based relationships
– is often limited to specific exchanges
– depends on the reliability and integrity of the individual’s past performance
– may depend in some cases on professional credentials or sources of proof such as certification
– will often occur when there are social similarities between the two individuals
Affect based trust (feeling)
– often develops as time goes by in later stages of work relationships
– may occur as relationships get closer and personal knowledge between the two individuals deepen
– can depend on the frequency of the interactions
– are supported through the personal motives of the two people
– depend on interpersonal care and concern
– demonstrates organisational citizenship behaviours
A third type of trust can also occur at the ORGANISATIONAL level..
Institution based trust
– is grounded in organisational level systems
– is demonstrated through the organisational culture
– sets the stage for other types of trust
– is also based on broader societal and legal systems
Now that we have considered the ideas behind different types of trust what are some practical tips to build it at the individual and organisational level? That will be the topic of my next blog.

Building Success by Building Trust

By Cindy Vallance

What do surveys about asset management firms and the NHS have to do with the topic of trust?

As outlined in an April 2012 Harvard Business Review blog, more than 100 asset management firms around the world were surveyed for the strength of their cultures and for the effectiveness of their leadership teams. One of the top success factors was that “There is a high level of trust among team members. ”

Those conducting the survey stated “Over time, the team must develop trust by having clear rules of engagement and accountabilities. This trust then allows the team members to move beyond “politically correct” conversation or “politically incorrect” confrontation to fruitful debate and dialogue…leaders show an unusual commitment to getting the trust factor right. Our interpretation of this is that it relates to other surveys of investment professionals which indicate that their top desire for improvement in their firms is to achieve more open communication and debate…these cannot occur in environments with low trust.”

On the other hand, a March 2012 People Management blog reported on the results of a recent NHS survey. Here the results highlighted that “the survey identifies a lack of trust in managers’ abilities which undermines trust and could stall change.”

The comparison of these two surveys reinforce the importance of trust for organisational success. If we reflect on the four aspects of trust highlighted in my last blog: ability, benevolence, integrity and predictability, how can we improve on any that are lacking?

Ability – this aspect of trust is perhaps the most straight forward to rectify, although not necessarily easy. Providing or taking advantage of training and guidance and then identifying specific goals and working towards these over time should improve ability.

Benevolence – to increase benevolence it is critical to get rid of any sense that either party has a hidden agenda and instead highlight areas of common interest and mutual benefit.

Integrity – increasing integrity requires a willingness to engage in open discussion to arrive at common principles and to set boundaries for mutual expectations.

Predictability – only the repeated demonstration of positive behaviours will help others to be confident that what they have seen in the past will be repeated in the present and future.

The reality is that trust and distrust are not opposite ends of the spectrum. The same person can be trusted or distrusted in different areas. I may trust my accountant to get me a good tax rebate but I certainly wouldn’t trust her to perform brain surgery on me. In my next blog, I will discuss different types of trust.

In the meantime, are you currently facing any situations where you could work to improve some aspect of trust?


This post is part of the HBR Insight Center on The Secrets of Great Teams. Do take a look at their other posts for practical team building ideas.




When I say I trust someone, what I mean is…

By Cindy Vallance

While by no means definitive, here are a few possible responses to the question  I asked in my last blog: “When I say I trust someone, what I mean is…”

“I feel that I will not be taken advantage of.”

“I will find in someone’s behaviour what I expect, not what I fear.”

“I believe that the individual I am trusting will consider my interests and my welfare.”

“I know I can rely on their opinions, actions, and integrity.”

How do these answers define the meaning of trust? What they share is the expectation that the other individual’s behaviour, in relation to the respondent, will be positive.

A more formal definition for trust would be be “a willingness to accept vulnerability based on positive expectations of the behaviour or intentions of another individual, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other person.”

Coming back to the concept of risk-taking that I mentioned last week, we can see why trust is critical. If we take a risk, we expose our vulnerability because there is always the possibility of failure with risk. Why would we willingly expose our vulnerability to anyone we didn’t consider trust-worthy? When we are dealing with someone we don’t trust, we rightly wonder “If I fail, what will happen to me?”

But when we consider that someone is trust-worthy, what qualities are we looking for? Research* identifies four key characteristics:

ABILITY – competence in meeting our expectations

BENEVOLENCE – positive orientation towards us

INTEGRITY – commitment to commonly accepted principles and  behavioural standards

PREDICTABILITY – consistency of positive behaviours demonstrated over time

It is easy to consider these qualities when we are evaluating others’ behaviour  – and perhaps find them wanting. However, there is much more we can do by starting with ourselves.

Reflect on the four qualities. Ask – Am I demonstrating these qualities so that others will trust me? What evidence do I have that others trust me? What is the basis of that trust?

And what can I do if I believe I could improve in the demonstration of any of these components of trust? I will come back to that next week.

*In addition to research by A.R. Elangovan, also see Hope-Hailey, Veronica, Ros Searle and Graham Dietz. Organisational Effectiveness: How Trust Helps. People Management, March 2012.

Trust and Consequences

By Cindy Vallance

I have been interested in the subject of trust for some time but have struggled to find the best way to discuss it. Who would come to a meeting to discuss trust? Yet trust is in short supply in nearly every strata of society and in nearly every organisation and institution.

Why is trust so important?

In the absence of trust, what do we get? Cynicism – especially towards change, low motivation and commitment, lack of confidence in the organisation, a reluctance to take risks, and an enormous cost in untapped potential and possibility.

It can actually be easier to trust than to distrust, since in practice no one can constantly monitor another’s behaviour. Trust therefore can act as a substitute for control. The trouble is that at this level trust is really no more than indifference.

However, there are many more positive and important reasons to consider the value of trust. In a group or team situation, the presence of trust will improve the group’s cohesion , errors and failures will be better tolerated and ideas, opportunities and problems will all be more readily shared.

Language is important and we all attach different meanings to the same words. Next time I will share some responses to the question below and will discuss some meanings of trust. In the meantime, think about your own response to this question or consider using the Comments section below and share your thoughts.

“When I trust someone, what I mean is … (fill in the blanks) …”

I would like to acknowledge that this series on trust is based very much on my own learning from Professor A.R. Elangovan, Associate Dean and Director, Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria, Canada who generously shared his research interests on this topic when I was a student there and who truly walks the talk of what he teaches.


Betrayal of Trust in Organizations, A. R. Elangovan and Debra L. Shapiro The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Jul., 1998), pp. 547-566 Published by: Academy of Management.


Trust – A Foundation for Change

By Cindy Vallance

Recently in our Change Academy blogs we have discussed principles that inform a thinking environment to foster change, overcoming myths about change, and have shared a range of perspectives on change.

For instance our 26 March blog on management with facts emphasises the importance of  trust which enables us to look at facts together to inform productive discussions.

The reality is that there can be no change without risk. And there can be no appetite for risk-taking without a strong foundation of trust.

Trust has something in common with the weather and motherhood…it is widely talked about and widely assumed to be good for organisations. ” Parke & Miller, 2000.

In the next few blogs, I will discuss why we trust, how we define trust, strategies we can use to build trust, and what we can do if trust has been eroded or broken.

“You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible. ” Anton Chekhov


Putting into practice all 10 thinking principles

By Cindy Vallance

In the past ten blogs, I have discussed Nancy Kline’s 10 principles for a thinking environment (

Why not come up with your own way of remembering and practicing these 10 principles? Make them real by thinking for yourself and making them your own.










Incisive questions

And finally, there is much more in Nancy Kline’s book Time to Think, but to end this series, I will conclude with the practical tips that may make some of your meetings a more conducive environment for thinking:

  • give everyone a turn to speak
  • at the beginning ask everyone to relate something that is going well in their work or in the group’s work
  • give attention without interruption to every open discussion during the meeting – try framing agenda items as questions
  • when permission is given use incisive questions in pairs or with the larger group’s permission to help each other remove limiting assumptions
  • when thinking stalls, divide into pairs and give each person five minutes to think out loud and without interruption about the topic
  • go around in turns intermittently throughout the meeting to give everyone an equal turn to say something if they choose to
  • encourage diverse views and information sharing
  • permit the expression of feelings
  • end the meeting by asking everyone what they felt went well and what they respect or appreciate about the person next to them
  • do what you can to create a space for the meeting that demonstrates the value you place on the people