Core Social Motive Three - Trusting (Part One) - Trust & Attachment Theory

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Core Social Motive Three - Trusting (Part One) - Trust & Attachment Theory

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Published by Laurence Nicholson in Change · Friday 31 May 2024
The Core Social Psychology Motives in Change Management

Core Social Motive Three - Trusting

Part One - Trust & Attachment Theory

(Listen to the Podcast version HERE)

Welcome back to our journey through the Core Social Psychology Motives, and to the first part of this discussion around the third core social motive: Trusting.

I’m going to make these a bit shorter, as feedback from a couple of folks said whilst interesting, the complexity and length was a bit much, so hopefully this ‘episode’ hits the mark.

So, what is Trust? A straightforward definition is “an individual’s willingness to be vulnerable to others”, which comes from ‘ten Have, Westhof and Risman.’

To be trusting, we need to see the world as generally a benevolent place, and to view others as benign actors within our environment (Fiske, 2004). This is because in order to operate in the most optimum way, we have to avoid being distracted by concerns around any likelihood of others we depend on acting in a way that negatively impacts us and our ability to deliver.

It is therefor clear why trust involves vulnerability, but vulnerability can also facilitate highly effective interactions with others. In fact in the world of counselling & psychotherapies, it is widely accepted, and heavily evidenced by decades of research, that the success of therapy depends significantly on the quality of the relationship established between therapist and client, which critically is highly dependant on the ability of the therapist to provide a safe environment to be vulnerable.

As we know everyone is different, and whilst most people are relatively trusting and tend to see the better side of people, there are also those who are a little more suspicious and maybe even a bit paranoid, so when it comes to group dynamics and behaviours, trust is an integral part of strong group cohesion (see social cohesion theory in episode one), and therefor is important to consider when managing change initiatives within an organisation.

Underpinning trust, is the individual’s (people and group) belief in the presence of fair process, as well as key characteristics of ability, benevolence and integrity. There has to be a belief in the ability of those being trusted to be able to behave as expected. There needs to be an assumption that those people also intend to act positively towards you, and the perceived integrity of those individuals therefor provides important indicators as to how ‘trustworthy’ they are likely to be. All of this plays into building strong social cohesion, belongingness and support, within organisational change.

Clearly for leaders to successfully manage a change, they need to take steps to build or establish trust and a belief that they will act in the best interest of their employees (Fugate, 2013). Mishra & Spreitzer (1998) described the four dimensions of trust expected of management that are needed to reduce uncertainty around change: (1) concern for employee’s interests; (2) strategic competence; (3) reliability; (4) openness and honesty.

Finally, Maurer (2010) even went so far as to say: “Trust can make or break a change. But, sadly, many who lead change seem to ignore this critically important ingredient. They seem to believe that a good idea will win the day. It won’t!”

Okay, we’ve looked at Trust, so let’s now look at attachment theory.

Attachment theory relates to social and interpersonal behaviour of individuals (initially to describe mother-infant relationships), and describes the formation and quality of such interpersonal relationships as an innate human tendency, often established to ensure support and a form of protection in times of uncertainty and stress.

There is also a very specific focus for attachment theory, this being how we respond within relationships when hurt, perceiving a threat or separated from loved ones, and is not intended to be a general theory around relationships.

When it comes to organisation and change, this theory is primarily associated with areas such as leadership relationships and interactions, change capacity and resistance, organisational structure and cultural dynamics.

For change leaders, the key observations are that for those employees with a secure attachment style, benefits are seen in their psychological and physical well-being, with increased trust and loyalty to the organisation and its leaders. Employees whose attachment style is more anxious and avoidant, often experience detrimental impacts to their well-being, and an increased likelihood of leaving.

Finally, it is important for managers and leaders to recognise those who lack the secure attachment style, and focus heavily on the type of relationship they develop with them, because that relationship is of critical importance to them, as they will have few other emotional, physical or cognitive resources to draw upon to remain productive in the face of change.

So, that’s it for this time. I hope being a bit shorter, and a little less ‘sciencey’, this episode style is easier to read and assimilate. In the next part, we move on to the sub elements of fair process: justice theory and procedural justice.




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