Marie-Claire Ross on trust: the difference between toxic and top performing cultures (#12)

I want you to imagine a workplace. 

It’s a workplace where everybody hordes and hides information from each other.  No one is willing to help you unless you give them full credit. Your boss asks you to provide a detailed timesheet showing how you spent every minute of your day (including bathroom breaks). There are more internal company policies than training programs. If you have an idea to save the company money, you need to get ten approvals from senior executives, who are likely to block the suggestion because your success might make their department look bad. When something goes wrong, it is more important to know who is to blame than how to fix the issue. 

You cannot fix a toxic work culture like this with a ping pong table and an on-site barista. We need to look beneath the surface to find the root cause. The root of all these problems is trust. The degree of trust in an organisation or a team determines whether your culture is on the toxic end of the spectrum or on the high performing end. Trust is such an important component of communication because it brings meaning to connection. 

Today we talk to Marie-Claire Ross about trust, why it’s important and how we can build it. 

Marie-Claire is a speaker and facilitator helping leaders build trust in the workplace. She works with companies around the world including Qantas, PETRONAS and the Australian Tax Office. Marie-Claire writes a monthly column in the Facility Management magazine on corporate culture and has been interviewed for Business Review Weekly and Sky Business News.  She is the author of Transform your Safety Communication and she is soon to release her next book called Fast Trust: A Handbook for Team Leaders to Create Accountable and Productive Teams. Marie-Claire is on the SME committee for Australian Institute of Company Directors and is also a fellow of The CEO Institute.  

We hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Marie-Claire Ross.  

You can find Marie-Claire on LinkedIn or her website where you can also sign up for weekly tips on leadership insights for building trust. 

You can listen on Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher or Simplecast

Show Notes 

3:23 – why teach companies about trust?
8:19 – distrust in management seems common.
9:19 – organisations who resist learning about trust usually have trust issues.
10:23 – weird trust lady.
12:41 – winning over the sceptics.
14:32 – weird trust lady vs trust expert.
15:50 – effect of vulnerability on trust.
18:50 – you cannot be vulnerable in front of everyone.
19:18 – vulnerability is less about the sender than the receiver.
19:57 – team building exercises create fake vulnerability.
21:13 – how can we build trust with people?
21:31 – we trust people when we know their emotional triggers.
22:18 – how NASA builds trust within astronaut teams.
23:20 – asking questions to get below the surface.
24:08 – find common ground.
24:32 – where there’s no risk there’s no reward.
25:08 – COVID has given us common ground to built upon.
26:56 – we’re more open because we realise we’re not the only one struggling.
28:59 – I don’t care what you know until I know that you care.
29:40 – self-interest gets in the way of trust at work.
30:29 – the business case for trust.
32:55 – how can leaders without trusting cultures improve?
34:20 – lack of self-awareness can inhibit trust.
35:29 – leadership behaviours that cause trust issues.
40:50 – is trust earned or given?
43:33 – the roles of leaders and team members in building trust.
44:20 – the trust battery.
48:52 – corporate communication: protect or transparent?
52:00 – belief is key part of trust.
55:35 – delegation and accountability impacts trust.
57:09 – being a good leader is helping people unlock their potential.
58:24 – team trust cheat sheet.

Links to references 



Workplace Communicator Blog (now Trust Building Communicator Blog)

Dr Jeffrey Polzer 

Willis Towers Watson study: studies on link between trust and revenue 


Dr Paul Zacresearch on  impact of trust on employee retention, productivity and burn out 


The Trust Battery by Tobi Lutke, CEO of Shopify 

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg 

Trust building cheat sheet 

Key Quotes 

“Trust was the missing link and something that had to be worked on”

“That weird trust lady told me not to go buy a coffee”

“When you are having trust issues …it is easier to have someone external understand what is going on.”

“It’s not about making people wrong it just about helping people work better together.”

“People tend to think of vulnerability as being touchy feely…but instead it sends a message that you have weaknesses and you can use help…it models that for others that people can start to trust each other and help each other.”

“Human beings are status oriented…if you are a boss people fear you…you have to level up the playing field so that people can trust you.”

“It doesn’t work to be vulnerable in front of some people…if you are dealing with those that high on the narcissism scale…psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists…they will use it against you, they will not respect you and it is one of the worst thing you can do!”

“Just going out to dinner and having food together, doesn’t necessarily build trust…people who already trust each other hang out together…we need to be careful in workplaces that we are not just building trust with the people we like…that doesn’t help!”

“Those in the “out” group feel left out by the popular ones and the popular ones cannot understand why it is not nice to not include the others.”

“The more times you can spend with someone the better ….we trust people when we know their emotional triggers…so the best way to get to know someone is …to immerse yourself with them in a stressful environment.”

“NASA…important for astronauts to trust each other quickly…they will send teams into the wilderness for ten days…around the seventh day people start cracking…this is key…when we know how people will react under stressful situations…we are more likely to build trust with them. You cannot build trust with someone who’s behaviour you cannot predict.”

“I don’t know that many people go deep in conversation…even socially…people want to go with the superficial stuff…it is quite shallow.”

“Similarities are important for building trust…if you cannot use that you have to find something else”

“People really want to have leaders who ask them how they are feeling and talk about them…you don’t have to keep your emotions at the door when you go to work.”

“One of the gifts of COVID is that it is opening up our hearts to understanding peoples situations and that people may not be at full capacity because they are under a lot of stress.”

“We trust people who care about us and who are not self-interested.”

“Without trust there is no meaningful connection between people…trust really shifts …to a high performance team…when you unblock trust issues things flow smoothly.”

“High trust cultures have 2.5 times the revenue generation of low trust cultures…high trust cultures have 50% less turnover, 18% more productivity,  40% less burnout…and 52% more employee engagement…high trust creates the right environment to pivot quickly so people are more likely to make fast decisions and to be accountable.”

“When employees don’t trust their organisation, it is like walking through sludge…a lot of resistance…people hold back…”

“I don’t work with really dysfunctional leaders as they don’t want me anywhere near them.”

“When you have leaders that don’t listen, don’t share and assume things…that causes trust issues”

“High trust leaders and constantly worried about trust…they know that if they break trust that it is so hard to regain…they do anything they can to minimise it.”

“If you label this podcast anything to do with trust you are not going to get low trust leaders listening.”

“Those leaders that do not take any advice are more likely to have their career derailed.”

“Our childhood really does dictate how we trust, especially up until the age of seven.”

“Trust begets trust…it is always better to start with trust first…when you have a leader that says trust is earned that puts people off.”

“Trust is like a battery…if you leave the battery fully charged and you leave it alone that charge will disappear…increasing trust is a process and not a single event.”

“Some bosses don’t delegate very well or don’t hold people accountable and so they are not holding people accountable very well so they are not empowering people to do the work….and in some ways they are dumbing it down…people get used to that…their boss makes their life easier and that causes issues.”

About the author

Divan and Mark are co-hosts of the Candour Communication Podcast where we discuss interpersonal communication and all the human stuff that gets in the way.