How to Build Trust With People at Work

How to Build Trust With People at Work

Fostering a trusting connection with the people around you can make a big difference.

In your personal life and in your career, trust means a lot. When trust breaks down, it causes friction, unhappy work environments, and sometimes major problems.

Harvard business professor Franes Frei and entrepreneur Anne Morriss write that trust is at the foundation of nearly every interaction we make, and it can have a profound effect on your ability to lead.

“Trust is also one of the most essential forms of capital a leader has. Building trust, however, often requires thinking about leadership from a new perspective,” the duo writes in the Harvard Business Review.

“The traditional leadership narrative is all about you: your vision and strategy; your ability to make the tough calls and rally the troops; your talents, your charisma, your heroic moments of courage and instinct. But leadership really isn’t about you. It’s about empowering other people as a result of your presence, and about making sure that the impact of your leadership continues into your absence.”

But you don’t have to be in a leadership position to build trust among the people you work with. Whether you’re early in your career, taking on a new role, or finding your footing in a job you’ve had, finding new ways to earn confidence can ensure success and help create stronger teams.

The great news is that these skills will benefit you in so many ways, because trust truly is the basis of strong bonds.

Practice transparency 

Some of the most toxic environments are born from a lack of transparency, and that can happen for a number of reasons. Sometimes it can be difficult to admit when you’re not able to successfully complete a task or don’t have enough resources to do so. Other times, the mask of professionalism can cloud honest feedback

Transparency doesn’t necessarily mean brutal honesty. One can be transparent and offer clarity, and do so in a professional manner. After all, the goal of transparency is to foster an environment where problem-solving is encouraged and team members feel that they have the necessary information to do their job. 

For leaders, it’s helpful to be transparent about company resources and changes, but for those who don’t manage, it can be equally important to show their boss that they can be trusted to be honest. 

A few ways to show a commitment to transparency include: 

  • Asking questions. If you’re not sure about an assignment or directive, clarify with your manager. It shows that you’re able to take initiative and do what’s necessary to succeed. 
  • Set boundaries. When boundaries aren’t set, things can get messy. Transparency means being honest about your workload and knowing when it becomes too much. 
  • Show authenticity. Remember to be your authentic self. If you don’t appear to be yourself to those around you, you cannot earn their trust. 

Practice your communication skills

Most of all, trust is built on communication. The kicker, however, is that good communication is also built on trust. It’s difficult to have one without the other. 

With this in mind, it’s important to focus on clarity, connection, and timeliness. 

Clarity: No matter where you are in your career, you’ll see the benefits of being a clear and polished communicator. You want to efficiently and effectively synthesize both big and small topics and cut unnecessary information from your messaging. It’s easy to throw in a lot of extra information in an email, thinking that more is better, but that’s not always the case. Think about what is truly needed, and cut the extra fluff.

Take time to prepare for meetings or write questions ahead of time. Simple measures like this will help get to the point and communicate exactly what you have in mind. 

Connection: Connection is important for communication, but don’t think that means you have to be best friends with your colleagues. Connection can be as simple as practicing good listening skills. Close your laptop, make eye contact, ask follow-up questions, and limit distractions during conversations. 

Timeliness: Without a sense of punctuality, communication is basically useless. You want to give your teammates enough time to think through or respond to an ask or assignment. While last minute tasks or questions certainly arise, it’s important to be considerate about their workload and bandwidth. 

Similarly, if you reach out way ahead of time, it’s usually a good idea to follow-up closer to a deadline. Requests or emails can get lost or set aside, and a gentle nudge will usually do the trick. 

Trust takes time

Finally, it’s crucial to understand that trust isn’t built overnight. It takes time, effort, and reinforcement – and you won’t always get it right. 

Frances Frei and entrepreneur Anne Morriss say that most people have a “wobble” – or something that can prevent trust for forming. 

“The good news is that most of us generate a stable pattern of trust signals, which means a small change in behavior can go a long way,” they write.

In moments when trust is broken, or fails to get any real traction, it’s usually the same driver that has gone wobbly on us—authenticity, empathy, or logic. We call this driver your ‘trust wobble.’ In simple terms, it’s the driver that’s most likely to fail you.”

Depending on your own wobble, there’s almost always a way to overcome it. 

Practicing empathy, presenting strong ideas, and appearing authentic are all ways to show up and demonstrate that you are devoted to creating a trusting connection. This often starts with yourself. 

“To be a truly empowering leader, you need to take stock of where you wobble not only in your relationships with others but also in your relationship with yourself,” the duo says.

“Are you being honest with yourself about your ambitions, or are you ignoring what really excites and inspires you? If you’re hiding something from yourself, you’ve got an authenticity problem you need to address. Do you acknowledge your own needs and attend properly to them? If not, you’ve got to adopt a more empathetic posture toward yourself. Do you lack conviction in your own ideas and ability to perform? If so, you’ve got some logic issues to work out.”

Written by Kara Mason

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