Article: Hitting the Right Nerve: Using Neuroscience to Assess, Predict, Measure and Build Trust

by Elizabeth Williams

We’re going to be hearing a lot about trust in organizations this year. As we begin to figure out the new terms of engagement for the workplace in 2021, we’ll need to make sure that building and maintaining trust is a deliberate outcome of everything we do as communicators.

We’ve got years of data supporting the idea that people in high trust organizations are happier and outperform those in lower trust places. In fact, they report 74% less stress, 50% more productivity, 40% less burnout and much more energy and overall satisfaction with their lives.[1]

So we have an obvious business case for building trust, but where should Fearless Communicators start?

Understanding what trust is

A good starting place is to revisit the fundamentals of trust. Trust, at its most elemental, is a set of behaviours, not just a feeling. When we shift the conversation from how employees feel to how they act and speak, we can begin to create evidence-based programs that we can predict and measure.

Speaking of predictions, our recent podcast guest, Paul Zak uses smart watches to quickly test messaging, images, music and more using to assess which neurochemicals are released when audiences consume the content. The data is aggregated and ready for use immediately. If you have a big change initiative on the horizon, you may want to try this out in your next focus group.

The neuro-cocktail of persuasion

Understanding the behaviours we want is one thing, actually getting employees to pay attention and to give a crap is quite another. Enter stories: storytelling is a great way to release dopamine, which is necessary for that focus and attention. Stories that include a bit of suspense or mystery trigger that dopamine factory.

To drive the giving-a-crap part of trust, include emotional elements in stories that talk about caring and empathy to create the oxytocin bath, which is essential for helping people to feel engaged, social and involved.

Eight management behaviours

In his 2017 article in Harvard Business Review, Paul outlined the eight thing management teams need to be doing well to foster trust

  1. Recognition
  2. Attainable challenges
  3. Autonomy and discretion
  4. Job crafting
  5. Information sharing
  6. Intentional relationship building
  7. Whole-person growth
  8. Vulnerability

If your organization is struggling with trust, evaluate these factors and pick one where you can move the needle in three or six months.

Check out all this and more in our fascinating discussion with Dr. Paul Zak in the latest episode of The Swear Jar Podcast.


[1] Zak, P. 2017. The Neuroscience of Trust. Harvard Business Review

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