How to Build (and Rebuild) Trust: Frances Frei (Full Transcript)

Frances Frei

 Frances Frei – Culture coach

I want to talk to you about how to build and rebuild trust, because it’s my belief that trust is the foundation for everything we do, and that if we can learn to trust one another more, we can have unprecedented human progress.

But what if trust is broken? What if your CEO is caught on video, disparaging an employee? What if your employees experience a culture of bias, exclusion and worse? What if there’s a data breach, and it feels an awful lot like a cover-up than seriously addressing it? And most tragically, what if a technological fail leads to the loss of human life? If I was giving this talk six months ago, I would have been wearing an Uber T-shirt.

I’m a Harvard Business School professor, but I was super attracted to going to an organization that was metaphorically and perhaps quite literally on fire. I had read everything that was written in the newspaper, and that was precisely what drew me to the organization. This was an organization that had lost trust with every constituent that mattered. But there’s a word about me that I should share. My favorite trait is redemption.

I believe that there is a better version of us around every corner, and I have seen firsthand how organizations and communities and individuals change at breathtaking speed. I went to Uber with the hopes that a turnaround there could give license to the rest of us who might have narrower versions of their challenges. But when I got to Uber, I made a really big mistake. I publicly committed to wearing an Uber T-shirt every day until every other employee was wearing an Uber T-shirt. I had clearly not thought that through. It was 250 days of wearing an Uber T-shirt.

Now I am liberated from that commitment, as I am back at HBS, and what I’d like to do is share with you how far I have taken that liberty, which, it’s baby steps, but I would just say I’m on my way.

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Now, trust, if we’re going to rebuild it, we have to understand its component parts. The component parts of trust are super well understood. There’s three things about trust. If you sense that I am being authentic, you are much more likely to trust me. If you sense that I have real rigor in my logic, you are far more likely to trust me. And if you believe that my empathy is directed towards you, you are far more likely to trust me. When all three of these things are working, we have great trust. But if any one of these three gets shaky, if any one of these three wobbles, trust is threatened.

Now here’s what I’d like to do. I want each of us to be able to engender more trust tomorrow, literally tomorrow, than we do today. And the way to do that is to understand where trust wobbles for ourselves and have a ready-made prescription to overcome it. So that’s what I would like to do together.

Would you give me some sense of whether or not you’re here voluntarily? Yeah. OK. All right. Awesome!

OK. So it’s just super helpful feedback. So the most common wobble is empathy. The most common wobble is that people just don’t believe that we’re mostly in it for them, and they believe that we’re too self-distracted. And it’s no wonder. We are all so busy with so many demands on our time, it’s easy to crowd out the time and space that empathy requires. For Dylan to be Dylan, that takes real time.

And for us, if we have too much to do, we may not have that time. But that puts us into a vicious cycle, because without revealing empathy, it makes everything harder. Without the benefit of the doubt of trust, it makes everything harder, and then we have less and less time for empathy, and so it goes.

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