How can communication unlock trust?

We invited our associate leadership consultant, Kay Galpin, to share her thoughts on the role of trust and communication in leadership. In this introduction, the first of three blogs, Kay explores what we really mean by trust.

A brief scan of today’s headlines brings the theme of trust to mind again and again: from Trump to Brexit to Grenfell.

Trust has been described as the glue that drives 21st century life (Covey and Merrill, 2006) and in the era of increased technology and unprecedented accessibility of information, it is difficult to know in what and in whom to trust.

A culture of trust has been found to align staff with organisational purpose by an increased 70%, to create 70% more staff engagement, 74% less stress and 40% less burnout

Zak, 2017

And this isn’t a one off. A recent review of 112 independent research studies by De Jong, Dirks and Gillespie in 2016 finds that trust benefits both performance delivery and individual well-being – encompassing aspects of innovation, creativity, problem-solving, risk-taking and information exchange.

But what exactly is trust? Its absence is always keenly felt, but how to put your finger on it? I’m going to offer you three brief perspectives.

At an individual level its been described as the willingness to make oneself vulnerable to another, relying on another’s intention to act in one’s best interest (Mayer, Davis and Schoorman, 1995).

The decision to trust has also been described as both reliance-based (i.e. would you depend on this person?) and disclosure-based (i.e. would you disclose to this person?)(Gillespie, 2003).

And finally, thinking about the trust cues you might use, they could be based on information or evidence, or more emotional or “gut feeling” (McAllister,1995).

Over the next few weeks I will be exploring how organisations can build trust and how teams can build trust – starting, next week, with the five ways in which leaders can build trust through communication.

Kay worked as an HR business partner for 20 years in the charity and private sectors before completing a masters degree in occupational psychology last year. She is currently exploring how telling and disrupting team and individual stories can impact on team factors such as engagement, trust, emotion and identity to support organisational change. She is working as a freelance writer, researcher and consultant.



Covey, S.R. and Merrill, R. R. (2006) The Speed of Trust: The One thing that Changes Everything. New York. Simon and Schuster.

De Jong, B.A., Dirks, K.T. and Gillespie N. (2016) Trust and Team Performance: A Meta-Analysis of Main Effects, Moderators, and Covariates. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 101, No. 8, 1134–1150

Gillespie, N. (2003). Measuring trust in work relationships: The Behavioral Trust Inventory. In Proceedings of the Academy of Management Conference. Seattle, WA.

Mayer, R.C., Davis. J.H. and Schoorman, F.C. (1995) An Integrative Model of Organisational Trust. Academy of Management Review. Vol 20. No 3. pp 709 – 734.

McAllister, D. (1995) Affect- and cognition-based trust as foundations for interpersonal cooperation in organization. Academy of Management Journal. Vol. 38, No. 1, 24-59.

Zak, P.L. (2017) The Neuroscience of Trust Harvard Business Review Jan – Feb 2017.