There is definite asymmetry between building trust and destroying trust. While building trust can be complex and time-consuming, destroying trust can be done in one simple instant.
On his blog, Steven Pompy wrote that the five core components of successful teams are leadership, followership, communication, responsibility, and trust . Trust is a vital component in every cooperative effort, especially software development. Trust can be defined as reliance on a person—a belief in his inherent honesty, integrity, strength, fairness, and certainty. When you trust someone, you believe that he is going to behave as you expect him to behave. Brad Appleton once wrote, “We often say that each [agile development] iteration should build something useful, starting with the most important thing. Maybe the most important and useful thing that the initial iteration needs to build is ... trust!” Building trust is simple enough—tell the truth, keep your commitments, be transparent in your actions and motivations, act ethically, be loyal, treat others fairly, do your best, help others achieve, and express your appreciation for their efforts.
Having trust in another person means you can participate with him in unguarded interactions. You can put aside potential concerns (Can I believe him? Will he double cross me? What will he tell the boss about me? Will he deliver on his promises?) and get on with the work at hand. In software development, establishing trust relationships among clients, users, managers, developers, and testers allows us to work together more effectively. Trust enables greater creativity, productivity, and a more comfortable work environment when each group believes that all are focused on the best interests of the organization and each other.
There is definite asymmetry between building trust and destroying trust. While building trust can be complex and time-consuming, destroying trust can be done in one simple instant. Hence, being and acting trustworthily is the only sure way to maintain a trust relationship. Once trust is lost, it is very hard—if not impossible—to regain. It’s like a vase: Once it’s broken, no matter how expertly you repair it, the vase will never be quite the same again. Typical breaches of trust include: Deceit, either by outright lying or omitting substantive facts, or failing to act as expected by behaving in an unpredictable and capricious manner.
And now for something completely different: In physics, half-life is defined as the period of time it takes for a radioactive substance undergoing decay to decrease by half. Half-life was originally used to describe a characteristic of unstable atoms undergoing radioactive decay, but it can be applied to any quantity that follows a constant rate of decay. For example, if you had one gram of a radioactive element with a half-life of one hour, in sixty minutes, only half an ounce would remain. Sixty minutes later, only a quarter would remain. Sixty minutes later, only one eighth would remain, and so on. Trust also has a half-life; it decays over time. I can’t quantify its rate of decay (it’s probably different for every trust interaction), but trust does evaporate, even when there are no activities that would otherwise jeopardize it.
The phrase “Out of sight, out of mind” was first published in 1562 in John Heywood’s Woorkes . Janet Jackson’s song “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” was released in 1986. While separated in time by more than 400 years, these two expressions tell us about trust’s half-life. The trust relationship degrades over time because previous trust-building actions of our partner in the relationship grow dim in our memories. To maintain trust, we should seek opportunities that continually strengthen it. Look for or create situations that demonstrate your honesty, integrity, strength, fairness, and certainty. Seek to serve your trust partner in some way: Confide in him, listen