Sunday, October 16, 2011

Never trust the word trust

Perhaps the most abused word in management is trust. "I trust you to get this done" is simply an interesting way to ask someone to get some work done. "I don't trust our competitors" is pretty normal. But managers fail when they use trust to distinguish, assess, and evaluate staff. The notion of "I trust you, but I don't trust you" might make the manager feel like they have drawn the line between good and bad.

But trust is an abstract noun. Any abstract noun's definition is so vague, that it is essentially meaningless. Vague language is a crutch. Bad managers cling to such vague language in performance appraisals and team assessments. An abstract statement such as "I trust you" really means "I don't have anything constructive to say about you." Saying "I don't trust you" simply means "I don't want to tell you what I really don't like about you."

Maybe the managers who abuse the word trust should be forced to use the word in only one context: "I trust you had a good lunch."



  1. Are you saying that a managers actions should imply their trust rather than explicitly stating it? After all, what is a workplace without trust?

  2. I'm suggesting managers should be explicit and honest about their comments. Abstract nouns like "trust" or "justice" or "freedom" are quite open to vastly different interpretations. The first sign of an incompetent manager is one who abuses these words. Great managers say what they mean, bad managers hide behind abstract language. Say what you mean, don't be vague.