According to neuroscientific studies, the brain’s reward system and particularly the release of the hormone ‘oxytocin’ plays a key role in building trust. This hormone, also known as the ‘bonding hormone’ is associated with social bonding, empathy, and cooperation with individual or individuals.
Trust is a fundamental building block to develop or establish a connection with person or entity that is based on reliance, belief, honesty, understanding without need for examination of intentions, and dependence on responsibility of commitment, ability to mean what is said and say what is meant, and others among traits and behavioral aspects. Cultivating trust in the contemporary workplace of current day is essential for establishing cohesive and productive teams. The concept of trust is also based on neural mechanisms, and intricate processes occur in the brain that contribute to development and maintenance of trust in a professional setting. Building or establishing trust at the workplace among individuals previously unknown or unassociated with is a different exercise entirely as compared to such an exercise with familiar persons, family members, relatives, and/or friends.
As a socio-cognitive phenomenon, trust involves a delicate interplay of various neural processes such as assessment of social cues, emotional regulation, and formation of interpersonal connections and associations with an individual or individuals. Unraveling the underpinnings of trust will enable uncovering or exposing insights into the biological basis of the crucial phenomenon of trust and the component of workplace dynamics.
To understand better how trust begins to emerge in a situation or with individuals is to first know how the brain functions, and the reward system employed to aid in developing a bond or relationship with another, or among a group or in a team. According to neuroscientific studies, the brain’s reward system and particularly the release of the hormone ‘oxytocin’ plays a key role in building trust. This hormone, also known as the ‘bonding hormone’ is associated with social bonding, empathy, and cooperation with individual or individuals. It is interesting as well as beneficial to understand how the brain responds to trust-building behaviors and can offer practical strategies to foster stronger interpersonal connections and bonds among team members at the workplace. Besides, understanding the concept and neural corelates of trust can aid in identifying potential barriers and challenges that could dissuade trust development in a professional environment. This however, is based on past experiences, individual differences, and cultural influences among others, but are crucial as they impact how the brain responds to trust-related stimuli.
A workplace lacking trust is likely to be an environment lacking innovation, collaboration, creative thinking, and more than likely be lagging in terms of productivity. This is because an environment where trust is lacking prompts employees to be in guard or constantly focused on protecting themselves and their interests. Focus on such instinctive behaviors takes away from the concentrated need for exclusively attending to tasks and investing in performance and productivity instead. Lack of trust also creates introverts and sideliners, who otherwise could be detrimental in completing and contributing to team tasks and projects. Lack of trust also adds roadblocks to cross-team functioning and knowledge sharing. Lack of trust can encourage profiling at the workplace and result in individual or individuals being singled out and targeted. This can lead to indifference, isolation or avoidance, as well as deteriorate morale and competitive spirit among a larger base or coworkers and observers.
Efforts invested to encourage trust building and maintenance will drive healthy employee engagement, increase turnover, boost team morale, and have positive impact on company's bottom line. In order to establish a viable trust building strategy, it is crucial to understand some key factors that bring about or incite lack of trust or sudden loss of trust at the workplace. A downslide can begin small initially and expand as sentiment is shared and cues are taken and as a general perception is built around a group of employees, it almost always spreads to others relatively fast and furiously. Clues to look out for that are likely to spark slow, but steady deterioration of trust at the workplace are poor communication, lack of transparency, micromanagement, inconsistent leadership, favoritism, little to no communication with performers or employees managing crucial responsibilities in the background, inadequate work performance among managers, and a number of others. Personality conflicts, reduced engagement, and poor cooperation are also major indications to watch out for and address before matters get blown out of proportion. Addressing such issues nips things in the bud, establishes a level of transparency, and consistent and regular communication, honest conversations, and collaboration gains and inculcates respect. It also conveys the understanding that management is aware of things and goings-on at the workplace, and deters such uprisings and aids in establishing a more positive outlook among all.
While building, establishing, maintaining, and encouraging trust among individuals and team members is crucial in many ways, mistrust can also have major and serious effects at the workplace. Once trust has been built and maintained, there is a major danger of potentially losing trust in an employee or employees for some reason. Loss of trust can have damaging effect on more than just the relationship between manager employer, HR, and employee and business or brand. Repercussions of such an instance can negatively impact the wider organization, leading to toxic work culture, reduced productivity and profit, while increasing staff turnover.
Applying this neuroscientific knowledge to the workplace can enable organization leaders and managers to implement targeted strategies to enable establishing, building, and maintaining trust among team members at the workplace and in doing so nurture a more collaborative and inclusive work environment. Trust building takes time and effort, and a primary approach is to lead by example, and this is absolutely crucial to breaking the ice. A leader should model the behavior expected to be replicated in employees and instill the concept of ‘be trustworthy to be trusted’. This means exhibiting honesty, transparency, and consistency in all actions and decisions as a leader.
Also, encouraging open communication and transparency is critical to building trust at the workplace. If teams and members are open to sharing their thoughts and ideas, a leader needs to be transparent with related decisions and reasons and convey this to the employees. Open and unbiased communication can work wonders in creating a culture of trust and collaboration.
Providing opportunities for autonomy makes employees feel trusted enough to make decisions. This is more likely to give them the feel of being valued and hence they will be happily engaged in their work. Making consistent and fair decisions are essential ingredients to building trust, and it is important to ensure decisions are consistent and based on clear criteria. This approach makes employees feel that they are being treated fairly and can rely on judgment of the leader.
Be accountable and follow through on commitments as this is similar to a promise made and is expected to be delivered. This can help build trust and show that you are dependable and accountable. Apart from these strategies, promoting teamwork and collaboration, organizing team-building exercises or cross-functional projects, and unbiased reward programs can go a long way in maintaining trust factor. Actively promoting employee well-being on the professional front, encouraging healthy work-life balance, and being reachable and considerate can also help build trust and foster stronger bonds in a positive work environment.
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