2 types of trust

Like so many words we use commonly, the word trust has many layers of meaning. And, while most of us have similar general perspectives about what it means to trust another person, there are some subtle differences in how we view this simple word that make a huge difference in how we use it to communicate ideas.

The words I often use to describe the two sides of trust are transactional trust and relational trust, and here is how I define the terms:

  • Transactional trust refers to the trust we have that another person will do what they said they would do or complete an assigned task.
  • Relational trust refers to the trust we have that another person will listen to and understand our emotional state without passing judgment, criticizing, sharing it with others, or using the knowledge to somehow harm us.

At different times and in different situations, both components of trust affect our interactions and relationships. While most people experience and rely upon both trust components as they make decisions about how to interact with others, there are subtle differences in the priority that people place on the two components as they make decisions.

Leaders who focus heavily on task issues often place a higher priority on transactional trust – do people follow-through on commitments and complete tasks – than they do on relational trust. As a result, they can often find ways to stay engaged and working with a person that they do not “like” because they trust that the person will get things done.

Leaders who see the world through a relational filter often place a higher priority on relational trust – do people act in ways that build and protect relationships – than they do on transactional trust. And they can often stay engaged and working with a person they like even if the other person has challenges with meeting deadlines and completing tasks.

Likewise, team members with a task focus often place a higher priority on transactional trust between them and their leader than they do on relational trust. And team members with a relational focus place a higher priority on developing relational trust with their leader.

As a leader, understanding both how you and your team members prioritize the two sides of trust is important so that you can focus your trust building efforts in the area that will create the greatest immediate benefit. 

To build trust with task focused team members, focus on task completion and follow-through issues first and relationship issues second. To build trust with relationally focused team members, focus on showing support and building a relationship first and task completion second. 

Both forms of trust are important and building high levels of both will contribute to creating a high-performing, high-functioning, results-focused team.  To get the greatest results in the shortest amount of time, know your team members and focus first in the area of greatest concern to them

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