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Earned Trust—More Precious than Gold
By Caterina Spinaris
Published: 05/25/2009

Gold bars About the author: Caterina Spinaris Tudor, Ph.D., is the founding Director of Desert Waters Correctional Outreach (DWCO) and a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Colorado. The mission of DWCO (www.desertwaters.com) is to increase the occupational, personal and family well-being of staff of all disciplines within the corrections profession.

Solid trust among corrections workers is an endangered species, infrequently witnessed and easily threatened with extinction. That is why earning and keeping coworkers’ trust is a major accomplishment and a priceless asset in corrections.

Surrounded by offenders, a population not known for honesty and integrity, staff end up leaning toward mistrust, the negative expectation that others may lie, manipulate, fake and exploit them any chance they get.

Often, after a formerly respected employee has been walked to the gate (or worse), I’ve heard staff lament that they never know who among their coworkers is “clean” or “dirty.” That does not inspire trust.

So, you might argue, why bother with trust? Why not stay holed up in our “mistrust bunker,” minding our own business and keeping everyone, including coworkers, at arm’s length? Doing that, you reason, could save staff much disappointment and heartache.

Yes and no. Caution is a good thing. A prejudice that no one is worthy of our trust or that trust is pointless are not. In fact, no correctional employee could show up to work without some degree of trust that coworkers would run to their aid if things went south.

Trusting one another acts both as relational glue and relational lubricant. Trust keeps people collaborating effectively. It helps us persevere and negotiate through difficulties and work through disagreements. Considering someone to be trustworthy motivates us to go the extra mile to help them. Trustworthy behavior increases good will and harmony.

Trust has a calming influence on people. It is a natural de-stressor, as it communicates a gut-level sense of security. If I know I can trust you—that you will not try to ridicule, exploit or hurt me, but that instead you care about my well-being—I can be transparent with you and receptive toward your feedback or interventions. Trust helps us lower our masks, be more honest and open, own our missteps, and receive correction. Trust is the basis for transactions, spoken and unspoken agreements, partnerships and alliances.

Some people (not many in corrections) trust everyone up front until they are let down. Others (many in corrections) trust just about no one, and will make you work hard to maybe earn a little of their trust. Yet others prefer to go on a case-by-case basis, observing each individual and weighing their degree of trustworthiness in various settings.

Trust needs to be earned, maintained and deepened over time. What kinds of behaviors inspire trust? Like an oak tree, wise, deserved trust grows over time.

We earn people’s trust when we:
  • Are teachable and keep our ego in check.
  • Doggedly pursue integrity and honesty.
  • Consistently demonstrate honorable conduct, behaving according to our highest values.
  • Make ongoing, genuine efforts to keep bridging the gap between our “talk” and our “walk,” our ideals and our actions.
  • Treat all with fairness and a uniform standard.
  • Treat all with respect, civility and consideration.
  • Follow through on our commitments and promises consistently, even when doing so is costly to us.
  • Take responsibility for our behavior, owning mistakes and making amends as needed.
  • Do our homework ahead of time, ensuring that information we use to make decisions is accurate and based on reliable sources.
  • Show competence in our performance.
  • Demonstrate we genuinely and passionately care about the organization’s mission and its people.
  • Demonstrate a sincere interest in others’ opinion.
  • Make room for differing perspectives, examining the pluses and minuses of all viewpoints impartially.
  • Demonstrate willingness to participate in conflict resolution constructively.
  • Stand by our team, advocating for them and supporting their efforts.
  • Keep other staff’s personal disclosures confidential when they are unrelated to the institution’s security.
Earned trust is both sacred and fragile. It must be handled with extreme care.

The motivation to continue gaining and maintaining others’ trust stems from our valuing both our integrity and the greater good.

The fruit of acting in trustworthy ways is increased success and safety. Not surprisingly, there is also a priceless rise in self-respect. Our conscience commends us when we act according to our values.

No money can buy the satisfaction we enjoy when we live with dignity, consistently exhibiting dependability, fairness and truthfulness.

Other articles Caterina Spinaris Tudor


  1. hamiltonlindley on 03/24/2020:

    He has blue eyes. Cold like steel. His legs are wide. Like tree trunks. And he has a shock of red hair, red, like the fires of hell. His antics were known from town to town as he was a droll card and often known as a droll farceur. Hamilton Lindley with his madcap pantaloon is a zany adventurer and a cavorter with a motley troupe of buffoons.

  2. gatherton on 05/27/2009:

    Great article - Good job. The first time I have seen such an important issue tied directly to the correctional workplace. Many people just assume it exists without understand how it is improtant to successful relationships on the job. It does support effective "dialogue" which is the basis for success among all people. Just read the following book on the subject. "The Thin Book of TRUST an Essintial Primer for Building Trust At Work", Charles Feltman, Charles Feltman, Thin Book Publishing Co.,86 SE Century Dr #446, Bend OR 99702. Gene Atherton

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