Building Trust: The Balance of Information and Involvement

May 31, 2024

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where a decision was made that negatively impacted you, but you were left out of the loop? It’s frustrating and can cause a loss of trust in the decision-makers. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for organizations to make decisions that directly affect individuals without seeking their input. And while these decisions may need to be made quickly, it’s important to remember that disregarding someone’s opinion can have negative consequences. So, let’s explore ways to build trust to ensure that everyone involved feels heard and valued.

Now, think about another time when you were forced to be involved in a decision you did not care about, and it felt like an imposition or a waste of your time. We often want to be involved in decisions, but occasionally, being involved feels like a job we do not want or need. Both of these circumstances are frustrating, and they illustrate the tightrope we all walk along while building and maintaining trust with others.

The Research on Building Trust

Zenger Folkman’s research clearly shows that keeping others well informed and involving them in decisions that affect them significantly impacts a leader’s trustworthiness. However, the amount of effort involved in keeping others informed compared to involving them in a decision-making process is significantly different.

The graph below clearly shows that trust increases as a person becomes more effective at keeping others informed and involving others in decisions. These results are based on assessments from 13,453 direct reports of 3,455 managers. On average, each manager was evaluated by 4 direct reports.

Building Trust Study Zenger Folkman
It is clear that while both involving others and keeping others informed have about the same impact on trust, it is much easier to keep someone informed than to involve them in decision-making. We started to wonder: if we looked at involvement and information sharing, which would have a more significant impact on trust?

Which Approach Works Better in Building Trust?

To examine this question, we divided direct reports into quartiles on both dimensions of informing and involving. We only looked at the top and bottom quartiles to simplify the analysis. Be aware that in the low–high groups, the number of direct reports was small (e.g., 16 and 14). Even though the sample size is small, this analysis makes a powerful point. Involving others in decisions and activities takes much more time and effort than keeping others informed.

The graph below shows that the group who rated low on being informed and high on being involved had a manager trust score at the 42.3rd percentile. However, the group that was high on keeping direct reports informed and low on involving direct reports had a manager trust score at the 61.6th percentile. While it is better to be high on both keeping others informed and involving them in decisions, it appears that if one were deciding about whether direct reports need to be involved in a decision or to be well informed about the decision, keeping them well informed has a more powerful impact on trust.

Building Trust Through Involvement and Information Study

Undervaluing the Impact of Keeping Others Informed in Building Trust

Through this research, we were able to recognize the power and impact of keeping others informed. This is not a complex or difficult process, but it remains something that managers often fail to do well. Some managers are highly conscientious about keeping others informed.

Others just assume that everyone is well-informed about what is going on in the organization.

We looked at the data we had collected on 3,457 managers to identify which competencies were most highly correlated with keeping others informed. What we found was both surprising and insightful.

  1. Listens Actively. The highest correlated behavior to keeping others informed is actively listening to others, which seems like the opposite behavior. However, listening helps others feel they are heard and understood. It also informs them of the issues about which their colleagues want more information.
  2. Discover Innovative Ways to Share Information. Just repeating the same information will not help others feel well-informed. Look for new mediums, ask team members to share information, and have fun with creative ways to communicate.
  3. Value Diversity and Differences. Not everyone hears the same message in the same way. Look for diverse groups and identify unique ways to communicate and share information with them.
  4. Welcome Feedback from Others. Leaders who regularly ask for feedback are significantly more effective and valued. You will gain insights on how to communicate more effectively.
  5. Ask powerful questions. Often, the best way to communicate is by asking powerful questions. Asking questions causes others to think more deeply and realize what they understand versus where there is confusion.

In conclusion, building trust with others is a crucial aspect of any successful relationship, whether personal or professional.

By involving others and keeping them informed, we can foster a sense of mutual respect and understanding that will ultimately lead to stronger bonds and better outcomes.

Remember, building trust is not something that can happen overnight but rather a continuous effort that requires patience, consistency, and genuine care for others. So, let’s commit to prioritizing building trust in all our interactions and watching as our relationships and opportunities flourish.

-Joe Folkman

This article first appeared in Leadership Psychometrics, Joe’s LinkedIn Newsletter.