Trust Requires Emotional Safety

Sections of this topic

    Trust is built over time through caring, reliability, and genuine support. It’s torn down far quicker than it is built. Teams don’t succeed and organizational change efforts won’t succeed without trust. Yet how intentional are teams and most work environments in building trust?

    Lencioni’s popular book, Five Dysfunctions of a Team, has the foundation block as Trust, yet his ideas for building it seem shallow and insufficient. He makes the assumption that people feel emotionally safe with one another at work. I think that assumption needs further scrutiny.

    Trust requires emotional safety

    With the economic downturn, layoffs and budget cuts seem par for the course, only engendering more fear not more security. Even in the best of times, emotional safety and emotional well-being seem far off the radar of teams and companies. Leaving toxic work environments aside, and unfortunately there are too many of them, typical work environments tolerate fear, manipulation, or power plays to get things done.

    Emotional violence happens every time someone condemns, scapegoats, or plays the blame and shame game. It’s rampant in our society from our political fights and radio talk shows, to PR spins and white-washing. People don’t accept responsibility for their actions, or refuse to apologize for fear of appearing vulnerable. We are blind to the emotional scars being inflicted every day. And we are blind to how we inflict them on ourselves and others.

    Emotional safety is built through intentional acts of kindness, caring, compassion, and mutual respect. Trust builds from there with integrity and honesty- acts done regardless of the short term cost. Conscientious actions, dependability, and support that is offered with no hidden agendas and non- judgment builds trust.

    Intentionally Build Emotional Safety

    Start building emotional safety within yourself by being gentle with yourself, being honest with yourself, allow yourself to be vulnerable without beating yourself up. Then do that with your colleagues and team members. Support them in taking responsibility and accept that they aren’t perfect and neither are you. Correct errors in ways that show mutual respect and care.

    Emotional safety is everyone’s job just as physical safety is. I’d like to see more work places encourage and empahsize the emotional safety of staff as much as they do their physical safety.

    Trust is a long term process demonstrated over hundreds of daily actions and words. I believe we need to start speaking of Sacred Trust, lest it be easily undermined by the expedient route.


    For more resources, see our Library topic Spirituality in the Workplace.


    Linda J. Ferguson, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, coach, and consultant. Her first book, Path for Greatness: Work as Spiritual Service, explains more of her ideas on Sacred Trust. To purchase her book, click here.

    For more information on her work visit her web site –