12 min read
Trust is fundamental and often neglected in the workplace. Learn ways to build trust and maintain those professional relationships.
Have you ever had a big brainstorming session that fell completely flat? You dreamt of sitting around a giant whiteboard and spitballing ideas as a team, but the reality was a group of people avoiding eye contact and hesitantly making suggestions.
The problem? There was little trust in the room. Without trust, people become reluctant to put themselves out there. If they do, they’re vulnerable to be judged by their team members.
Employees who trust their colleagues and leadership are more likely to be open, honest, empathetic, collaborative, and constructive. All of which boosts innovation and productivity.
In this article, we discuss the importance of building trust in the workplace. You'll learn what exactly trust is, how it manifests, the importance of trust, and how to assess levels of trust. After that, we’ve got simple but actionable tips for you to build trust with your team.
As we’ve discussed in a previous article, there are two types of trust in the workplace. They can be defined as ‘practical’ and ‘emotional’:
This type of trust can be earned by being a steadfast worker. You consistently meet commitments, show up on time, and do what you say you’ll do. People rely on your competence and dependability. They’re confident that you’d get the job done.
This trust is fundamental. If you don’t have it—say you're always missing deadlines and suffer from terrible productivity—your team is facing some big problems. It can lead to a lack of communication, knowledge hoarding, or micro-management.
This type of trust is next level. And it’s what takes teamwork in the workplace to the next level too. It’s when people trust that you’re on their side. They know you’ll treat them kindly and respectfully. That you won’t judge them for their setbacks, and they’re comfortable telling you their honest thoughts, feelings, and ideas.
But emotional trust is, obviously, far more complex. It goes beyond hard work and respecting other people’s time; it requires a certain level of emotional intelligence. The good news is, even if you don’t think you have this as an innate skill, you can learn.
Leaders often overlook the importance of trust at work. But trust is a core building block for any organization. Let's take a look:
To be a productive member of an extended team, you must feel part of one that’s accomplishing something bigger together. The foundation of trust is crucial; everyone wants to be part of a trusting team. And solidifying trust is a workplace challenge regardless of company type or management style.
As we mentioned above, collaboration becomes much easier when your team members feel safe with each other. People are willing to take more risks, be vulnerable with each other. We know that high-performing teams operate with psychological safety. Ultimately this increases cross-departmental alignment and help leaders take note of the bigger picture.
It’s like a romantic relationship—if you don’t trust your partner, you’re more likely to leave. And in the workplace, lack of trust is a huge problem right now. As with monitoring software, micro-management is known to put off employees, leading to increased stress and decreased job satisfaction.
As Edelman’s Trust Barometer summarized, employees sit at the center of a company’s long-term success. And this is concerning; because 1 in 3 people don’t trust their employer. In the research, it was revealed that trust decreases from top positions down the organization.
How well are you treating your people? It’s crucial for employees to relay their honest thoughts up the chain to develop a trusting workplace. Assurance can help employees overcome worries during times of crisis and increase their resistance to change. When employers want more feedback from employees, higher trust helps leaders gain more input, including constructive criticism on how to handle certain situations.
When people don’t trust you, it becomes obvious in their behaviour. They double-check your work, they micro-manage you, and they don’t invite you to confidential meetings.
Sometimes, it’s because the individual has a low trust threshold; it’s not you at all. However, if several colleagues treat you like this, it may be time to self-reflect. Are your own actions causing people not to trust you? Do you:
These actions (or inactions) will impact your credibility and reliability in the eyes of others. If you’re looking to turn that around, it’s time to consider Charles Green’s Trust Equation.
What are ways to build trusting relationships with your team members? In this section, we share our tips on how to strengthen trust with other people.
This one is pretty straightforward. Honesty seems incredibly obvious but is surprisingly easy to lapse from. What about when your colleague asks if you followed up with that email you totally forgot about? You could lie, say yes, and do it that very moment. Or, you could admit that you totally forgot but will do it now.
This may hurt your Reliability rating, but the day you get discovered as a liar, both your Credibility and Reliability will shatter. Not worth it.
If you don’t know the answer or you don’t remember the solution, just say so. Not only will this allow you to learn and grow, but you won’t be considered a fake who’s wasting people’s time with lies.
Someone who’s never wrong is highly irritating. How can I rely on someone if they have so little self-awareness that they won’t even consider the fact they’re wrong or feel they have to hide it. If they’re hiding that, what else are they hiding? If you truly believe you’re right, ask the other person to explain further. You simply might not have the big picture.
If you cancel at the last minute, fail to show up, or miss a deadline, people will instantly wonder if you’ll do it again. You’ve planted that seed. If you make a habit of it, then people will learn that this is your normal behavior and will instinctively not count on you to follow through with commitments.
This basically means, if you’re meant to do something as part of your role at work, do it. Don’t let it slip onto someone else’s plate or try to get away with not doing it. Not only does this frustrate people, it suggests you’re not fully committed. People won’t trust that you can (or will) do your job.
If you’re transparent—if you communicate your intentions and show people reasons for doing something—you’re giving them a window into who you are. You’re giving them a grounding for trusting what you do because they can understand why you’re doing it.
If you want people to trust you with their honest insights, it may be time to extend an olive branch. Share with them first. Offer high trust to get the same.
Trust can be built by opening up about the real emotions you’re experiencing. It shows that you’re an authentic person, and mutual feelings allow you to strengthen relationships and build connections.
In some instances, people are happy to share, but they need to be asked. They don’t want to impose, but if they’re invited to participate (in a brainstorming session, a review, or personal conversation) they may be keen to. You’ll get people to share more (and confide in you more) if only you’d ask.
If you scoff, dismiss, or laugh at someone else’s idea or contribution, you’ll ruin your chances of trust. If people don’t feel safe being honest around you, they’ll clam up. Try to read people and measure your reactions to how sensitive they are.
Fundamentally, if you don’t invite others to talk—if you dominate a conversation or never ask questions—you’re signaling that you don’t care about what others have to say. If you’re not inviting people to speak, it suggests you’re happy to do all of the speaking yourself. In short, it suggests you don’t value them.
If you ask people questions, personal or professional, it has the opposite effect. It gives them a chance to enter a two-way relationship, to feel respected, and to have the ability to share and trust.
It’s no good asking questions for the sake of it. Perhaps worse than people who don’t ask questions are those who ask but don’t listen to the answer (or don’t consider it). It’s pure lip service. It makes the person feel like their opinions have been voiced and then totally disregarded. After a while, they won’t contribute at all. They don’t believe you’ll listen.
When you’re in a conversation, don’t just wait for your chance to talk. Seriously regard what the other person had to say, consider it, and maybe even ask another question. People will engage with you (and start to trust you) if they feel like you’re truly listening.
Before you feel like you have to chip in to the next conversation, consider this: will it add value? If not, you’re just doing it to be heard. (As a footnote to this: don’t be afraid of silence. It doesn’t always have to be filled.)
This is really where the rubber meets the road. In a trusting work environment, you need to have the courage to share your flaws, and accept the flaws of others without judgment. You should think of this as a discipline and a habit, not a one-time event.
In other words, it’s a behavior we can cultivate. Humility and courage are in many ways two sides of the same coin. There are times when we lose our courage or humility. However, every discussion is a new opportunity to regain it.
When something goes wrong and you’re partially to blame, the human reaction is often to blame others. “Oh, it was more their fault because of XYZ.” Not only will this ruin the trust between you and the people you’re blaming, but it reduces your ability to establish trust with most people who hear it. No one trusts a blamer because you don’t know what they’re saying behind your back.
Conversely, if you take responsibility for failures, people start to see that you have integrity. You’re honest and transparent, which people can get on board with. Also, they know they won’t get thrown under the bus.
This applies to some obvious situations, for example, if your team misses a deadline. In which case, as a leader, you’d probably say something like:
“In part, it was my fault we missed the deadline. I thought the team had it under control but I failed to check in with them and offer support” rather than “My team really messed up. I need to speak to them about their work ethic.”
However, there are times when it’s less obvious, for example, when a respectable member of your team fails to complete a task that you assigned to them. You should probably consider (and say) “I failed to explain that clearly” rather than “You completely misunderstood me.”
It’s 2021. High levels of trust are challenging enough to build, but even more so in the remote workplace. If you’re wondering what behaviors allow trust to be built in a virtual environment, this section is for you.
If you have a manager who’s breathing down your neck every day, it’s hard to feel secure and trusted. Especially when working mothers juggle childcare duties, leaders have to pivot to measuring output instead of worrying if people are sitting on their chairs eight straight hours a day.
Use pervasive communication to cultivate a transparent environment that commands mutual respect. In a remote setting, especially with asynchronous communications, make sure to be specific about what you’re talking about. Double-check with stakeholders and realign before jumping into the next phase of a project. Onboard the right digital tools to foster peer-to-peer sharing and make important information easily accessible.
Celebrate achievements big and small with your team! When gratitude is reciprocal, we feel valued as a team player. Not only does it help with wider employee engagement and productivity, but leaders who take a moment to celebrate victories also reinforce trust.
Yes, we’re working in different locations most of the time, but don’t forget to sync up every now and then. Body language is hard to replicate in the virtual world, and that’s why 1:1 meeting times help you learn about each other.
When you connect with teammates on a personal and professional level, you’ll find that your bond and trust increases. Take note of their individual motivations for relationship building, and help them to achieve shared success.
It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of workplace trust. Trust is literally the foundation for collaboration, integrity, and innovation.
Remember, building trust requires consistency and is a long-term game. Leaders need to model the behaviors they want to see. Even more so, leaders need to entrust their teams with the task of holding them accountable.
More and more organizations are putting trust at the core of their value culture. They’re embracing new forms of leadership—people who inspire rather than dictate, orchestrate rather than command and listen rather than giving orders. Moving in this direction is one step to building trust in your workplace.
Trust is an essential building block for a safe and productive workplace. Overcoming a lack of trust at work should be a top priority for all leaders. Learning how to build trust at work also has the power to improve the employee experience.
Hopefully our tips have given you some valuable ideas on how to move towards a more open and trusting environment. Please reach out to us if you have any questions or strategies you’d like to share!