But fairness can be subjective.
Breeden said we tend to assume that the needs and wants of others are the same as our own.
In his book, he wrote: "The first side effect of fairness is self-focus. The pursuit of fairness may cause you to treat others the way you want to be treated, without taking the time to discover if their needs are different from yours. Our brain's reward network needs help."
A manager might not like it when someone tells him bluntly that he made a mistake, so he assumes his employees also like criticism softened. But what if an employee would rather be told directly that she has screwed up?
That employee is going to struggle to trust the manager if she doesn't believe he's being honest with her.
"People tend to burden themselves needlessly," Breeden said. "They burden themselves with concerns over, 'What do I think this person wants? What do I think is the right thing to do? What does my company want me to do?' I'd say to them, 'Why don't you just call it as you see it? Why don't you just speak the truth?'"
Our workplace behavior is gummed up by fear of offending others and the desire to make sure everything seems fair. Whether it's from too much ill-conceived leadership training or from the way nonsensical corporate speak has invaded the lexicon, our ability to build trust is hampered.
We need to shake loose. If you want to build trust, interact with your colleagues — and trust them too. Don't assume everyone thinks the way you do — ask them how they think, how they prefer to be rewarded or criticized. Communicate and establish a path toward trust and stick to it, even if it isn't the path you'd choose.
We have made this complicated, and it shouldn't be.
And check out Breeden's book, as it nicely knocks down some of the walls we've built. Paskoff's company website (www.eliinc.com) has tips for building trust and simplifying workplace thinking.
Trust me, it's worth your time.
TALK TO REX: Ask workplace questions — anonymously or by name — and share stories with Rex Huppke at firstname.lastname@example.org, like Rex on Facebook at facebook.com/rexworkshere, and find more at chicagotribune.com/ijustworkhere.