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The Biology of Trust in the Workplace


Dr Maria Katsarou-Makin CPyschol is a psychologist, learning and development specialist and three-time published author with an extensive academic background in team dynamics spanning more than 25 years. She is Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, a Chartered & Leadership Psychologist and a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership & Management.

Organisations with high psychological safety foster an environment where employees feel safe to take risks, share ideas, and express themselves without fear of reprisal. This creates a culture of open communication and collaboration, ultimately boosting creativity and innovation.

When individuals feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to contribute their unique perspectives, engage in constructive dialogue, and take on challenging tasks, leading to increased productivity and overall team success.

But why does that happen? Looking at the biology of trust might shed some light.

The patterns of human attachment are formed and influenced during the recurrent relationship that a child experiences with their primary caregiver. Oxytocin is the hormone that has been associated with this specific bonding. There is a correlation between trust and oxytocin and there are several studies that have shown evidence to this effect. The release of oxytocin in the brain during trusting interactions makes humans treat each other as though they are part of the same tribe or family.

“As humans we constantly affect each other’s behaviour.”

So, as humans, we constantly affect each other’s behaviour, we are just not always aware of it. From a leadership or management perspective, the implications of being able to build trust are great. Trust creates conscious opportunities for constructive social interaction among team members, or between a leader and team members. It is crucial to communication, giving and receiving feedback, and establishing a safe environment during a team-building activity.

Thanks to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), scans we can see the impact of our behaviour on someone’s brain. If providing unsolicited feedback to your direct report has the same impact as if they were listening to footsteps following them in the dark, imagine what effect you are having on them!

“Trust is something we can feasibly work towards.”

That’s why we need to get to know our biology better and understand that trust is not some near-magical elixir. It is something we can feasibly work towards and even measure, all of which contributes to improved psychological safety in the workplace.

Want to learn more about how Indigo can help you boost trust and psychological safety in your organisation? Get in touch for a software demo.