It's All About Trust: Eight Key Ways to Build Trust

By Jean Marie Johnson

For such a small word, "trust" is a loaded concept. Consider how readily we say:  "I trust you completely," "Can she be trusted?"  I have no trust in him." On a personal level, the trust payoff is huge. When we trust someone, we have a feeling of confidence and security in that person's words, deeds and intentions. And that means we can breathe easily because we have faith in that person.

Trust at Work

In a work community where trust between co-workers is high, research confirms the benefits are numerous:

  • People take more and better risks
  • Relationships improve and cooperation is enhanced
  • Communication is open and conflict is reduced
  • Job satisfaction and productivity are generally higher
But if we have experienced this deep level of trust at work, we already know this; we know that trust creates an environment that brings out the best in us.

With so many reasons to cultivate trust, we need to ask ourselves a few questions: What is trust? What do I "own" or control in relation to trust?  How can I build more trust in my relationships at work?

What is Trust?

Dr. Duane C. Tway defined trust as "the state of readiness for unguarded interaction with someone or something." Another way of saying this is that when you trust someone, you are "real," spontaneous and genuine with them. This doesn't mean that "it's all about you;" it just means that you can be yourself, without feeling that you need to be careful or guarded. But extending trust isn't like turning a switch from Off to On.  Dr. Tway went further to explain that the act of trusting is based on these three things:

  • Your capacity for trusting: This is your Trust Foundation. It is your own willingness to risk trusting others; it is based on your life experience, what you have learned, and whether or not you choose to trust or distrust other people. You control this choice.  
  • Your perception of competence: This is your perception of how capable another person is to perform competently, to come through based on what's needed. There is a situational absence of trust that may be accurate—and therefore appropriate—from time to time.
  • Your perception of intentions: This is your perception of the degree to which the other person is motivated by mutually-serving, versus self-serving, intentions. Do you believe that the other person has your interests at heart? If not, what can you do to build trust with that person by your actions?

Why Trusts Breaks Down

If trust has broken down between yourself and a colleague, it may be because that colleague did something specific to cause you to distrust them. In fact, Human Resource Consultant Dave Bowman has identified five things that co-workers do to erode trust:

  1. Act and speak inconsistently
  2. Seek personal rather than shared gain
  3. Withhold information
  4. Tell lies or half-truths
  5. Are closed-minded
We have all seen these behaviors at one time or another in the workplace. What impact do they have on your willingness to trust? And, more importantly, since all of these trust-eroding behaviors are completely within your control, ask yourself which you have demonstrated. The good news is that you can eliminate them. Consider the following...

Trust Begins With You:  Eight Key Ways to Build Trust

You know all too well that trust doesn't simply spring up one day because someone decided that everyone should be more trusting. The fact is that trust only evolves when individuals consistently act in trustworthy ways. In the words of author Marsha Sinetar, "Trust is not a matter of technique, but of character; we are trusted because of our way of being, not because of our polished exteriors or our expertly crafted communications."  That's another way of saying that trust isn't based on a smooth delivery, a polished exterior or any form of artifice. It is instead based on sincere intentions and sincere actions.

Take a moment to consider the following specific behaviors that communicate: "I can be trusted":

1. Own your feelings
  • Identify what they are and be responsible with them. When you find that you feel strongly about something, or that your buttons just got pushed, take an emotional time out. Acknowledge what you are feeling, then pause to consider what, if anything, you will do. If you are really upset with the actions of a co-worker, instead of being tragic and going to attack and blame, consider cooling off, then approaching that person with an invitation to talk, explore, and understand.
2. Own your mistakes
  • You may find it difficult to admit error. You may have construed making a mistake with some blanket reflection of your competence. It's not; and only you see it that way. Instead of hiding, diminishing or pointing the finger elsewhere, take the high road; learn to say, "My error." This way, your co-workers will have greater respect for you, and you can then get on with correcting instead of deflecting.
3. Tell the truth
  • Honesty, openness and the sharing of information are your ticket to trust. People who hold back or distort information quickly earn a reputation as a person who can't be trusted. Sharing work-related information demonstrates that you are truly a team player.
4. Be willing to say "I'm sorry" and "I apologize"
  • When you use one of these pure and simple phrases, you not only take ownership, you demonstrate that you acknowledge and accept responsibility for the impact on the person or situation.
5.  Incorporate "I want to understand"
  • One of the most effective ways to show a co-worker the kind of consideration and respect that build trust is to be willing to explore where they are coming from and why. Remind yourself that they live in their little world of I and you live in yours. Open your mind and your heart and be willing to see what things look like from "over there."
6. Be willing to say "I don't understand"
  • This phrase is a companion to "I want to understand." It efficiently allows you to focus conversation on clarifying. Remember, as with empathy, you do not have to agree with how the other person sees things; you simply need to understand it if you want to build trust.
7. Look for mutual gain
  • Expand your awareness to consistently consider what the other person needs, wants, or what is important to him. Demonstrate that it's not all about you by factoring in the other person as much as you do yourself.  
8. Keep your word
  • Your word is your covenant. Do what you say you will. And if you can't, or if you don't—for whatever the reason—go back, own up, apologize, and reset the expectation.

When you master these behaviors, you will build trust—or more trust—with your co-workers. You will experience a workplace where you feel "lighter," less stressed or cautious, because people have mindfully cultivated trusting relationships. And you will learn one invaluable lesson of a lifetime: that the very first person you can trust is yourself.

Jean Marie Johnson is a Communico facilitator and has helped clients with their MAGIC initiatives. And for 20 years she has specialized in cultivating the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.
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