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What You Can Do To Build Trust In The Workplace

Trust in the workplace (or in life) does depend upon history - if your leader has disappointed you on a number of occasions by providing poor quality information provided, you will be less trusting of the information he or she provides to you in the future.

Trust also, at times, requires a leap of faith - every time you drive your car you take a leap of faith and believe the other drivers will obey that little white line and stick to their side of the road.

It is your responsibility, as the Leader of your team, to build a history of trust in the workplace so that you minimize the distance your team members need to "leap" in faith.

Leap Of Faith

Creating high levels of trust doesn't just happen. It is an intentional, and deliberate, process that involves planning and dedicated implementation.

Let's now take an extended look at the five elements that build trust in the workplace:

Do You Believe In Yourself?

We seem to be hard-wired to doubt ourselves. For most of us, this doubt doesn't stop us from being successful, it can slow us down sometimes, but generally we can 'shush' that naughty inner voice that says things along the lines of "You aren't good enough."

But for others, that little voice inside, that beats the drum of "You aren't good enough" can cause them to behave in ways that can lead to their failure. When an individual's self-esteem is low some pretty weird behaviors start to show up.

Put Your Success Above Others And You'll Fail!

For example: I had a client who was really a terrific person, let's call him Jim.

Jim was chasing very hard for the role of CEO in his organization. But the more he pushed, the further away it seemed to slip. And there was a major reason for this.

The biggest problem Jim had was that, deep down he didn't truly believe in himself and his own innate worth. He was hungering badly for the CEO role to prove to others (family, friends, work colleagues) that he was indeed 'good enough'.

This lack of belief in himself, drove him to do things like taking credit for other people's work, involving himself in everything so that he felt he had control over what was happening, pushing people and so on.

And, even though he would tell people that he was there to support them and wanted them to be successful, people didn't trust him because they could see that what he said was quite different what he did.

Really when push came to shove, he was putting his own success above that of anyone else - a sure-fired way to stop trust in the workplace dead. All he was really concerned about was making sure that he was seen to be the right person for the CEO role.

When Jim had that 'aha' moment and acknowledged his own lack of belief in himself, Jim was able to see his behaviors for what they were, and decided to change. He let go of the chase for the CEO role, and the hunger to prove himself to others. He chose to focus instead on believing in himself, and becoming the really supportive, empowering leader that he wanted to be.

People initially were resistant, uncertain whether or not to re-extend their trust to him. However, as they came to realize that this change was sincere, their environment began to change. People were more relaxed, working together, rather than fighting to protect themselves or ducking to avoid 'trouble' and they began to perform at much higher levels - trust in the workplace was restored.

Funnily enough, within 12 months of his change in attitude, beliefs and style he got the CEO role! He had become a leader who was worthy of the role. One who believed in himself and was consistent in what he said and did. One who knew how to build and maintain trust in the workplace.

When you don't believe in yourself, you get a lack of abundance mentality. A mindset of, 'there is only so much to go around' means that you are:

  • unlikely to grow the people who report to you (what if they end up being better than you!),
  • unlikely to give credit where credit is due, unlikely to let the people around you take risks and step out on to the leading edge,
  • unlikely to openly and freely share information,
  • unlikely to ever be an empowering high performance leader

Do You Care?

People want to know that they are important to you. The question rattling around inside is something along the lines of: "Do you care about my success as well as your own?" Before people extend trust, they will want to be very certain that the other person has their best interests at heart.

People are unlikely to trust you if they believe you will sell them up the river for your own success. This was certainly what had happened with Jim. People didn't feel that Jim cared about them as individuals. They believed that if something went wrong, then Jim would work hard to come out smelling like roses, whilst letting the people in his team take the flak for any mistakes.

People want to know that if something goes wrong will you go into bat for them. Or when things are going well, that their efforts and successes are recognized. They want to know that you care enough about them, that you take the time to ensure that they are being directed to work that engages and inspires them, and enables them to make best use of their strengths.

If I was sitting next to you right now, one of the first questions I would ask you is, "Tell me the goals, hopes and dreams of each the people with whom you work. What is it that they love to do?" Your answers to these questions, will very quickly tell me just how much you care about the people who report to you, and it will definitely show the degree, of trust in the workplace, you are building.

"I don't care how much you know, until I know how much you care".


Are You Reliable?

This is possibly one of the greatest causes of lack of trust in the workplace. The question people have rattling around inside themselves, when they are deciding whether or not to trust you is: "Is your word your honor?"

When you first start building trust with others, start by making small agreements, keep them, then make larger agreements - this is known as under-promise and over-deliver.

Never make an agreement that you don't fully intend to keep, no matter how small. If you say you are going to get back to someone by 2.00 pm on Friday, then that is what you do. Communicate at once, if you cannot keep an agreement, and clean up broken agreements immediately. It is your reliability by which people will judge how far to extend their trust in the workplace.

"What you do speaks so loud I cannot hear what you say".

Ralph Waldo Emerson

People need to feel that their Leader is committed to his/her own personal espoused principles and values, and the principles and values of the organization. Your integrity is critical in building and sustaining an environment of high trust - so your actions must reflect your rhetoric.

In other words:

  • Do you walk your talk?

  • Does every action you take build trust in the workplace?

  • Do you never gossip?

  • Do you always keep your promises?

  • Can you be relied upon so that what you say and what you do and what you say about what you did are always aligned?

Are You Competent?

You can believe in yourself, you can have achieved great results in the past, you may have incredibly good intent and people trust that you care, but if you just aren't capable in today's rapidly changing world then you simply aren't relevant ... and you certainly won't attain the levels of trust in the workplace that you need to succeed! People want to know that you have the capacity to produce the results that you say you will.

You've may heard of the Peter Principle. I'm not sure where that saying came from, however, for those of you haven't heard that saying before, it means promoting people to their level of incompetence.

So, if you continue to rely on the skills you gained in the past - the skills that got you to this position - to carry you forward in the future, you may well pay a price. The price being: a lack of trust in your ability to succeed in your current role.

Relying on your previous capabilities is not enough - you need to continually learn, grow and develop. How are you re-inventing yourself? What skills, capabilities, talents, strengths, knowledge, style do you want to enhance and grow so you remain relevant.

Do You Believe In Me?

Finally, every one of us wants others to see the great potential that resides within us.

For someone to trust you they need to know that you approve of them - even when they've done something wrong - that you still find them to be a worthwhile person and that you will continue to see in them, their potential (not just their faults).

Sure, Shelley, but you don't know the people I have to work with! Their greatness is well and truly hidden by poor performance, poor attitude etc.

I realize how challenging it can be when someone is being a right royal pain in the neck. However, like all of us, on the inside that person probably doesn't want to be this way.

Have you ever witnessed someone who, under one leader, was an under-performing employee and held very negative attitudes, yet once placed in a different environment they blossomed and thrived. You may have even been that person! I know I certainly have.

Some years ago, I worked under a leader where I was sullen, withdrawn, angry and disruptive. At the time I certainly wasn't taking responsibility for my own actions ... playing the victim and blaming that leader for my behavior. Blaming him for not believing in me, and holding me back. Blaming him for not allowing me to do the things that I knew I could.

I now realize that I could have acted differently in that situation and made different choices about my behavior - but at the time I didn't have the maturity, insight, skills or knowledge I have today. When this particular leader moved on, a new leader came on board who said to me, "I can see that you haven't been shining the way that you can - let's talk about what it is that makes your heart sing at work".

That one conversation changed me forever. It set me on the path to where I can sit today and create this article, my website and make presentations that influence many thousands of people. This new leader saw beyond my current behavior, to the potential that resided within me.

He was the toughest leader I ever had in that he never let me play a small game. He held me to a level of excellence that at times was challenging, but because of the trust he extended to me, the belief he held in me, the fact that he cared enough about me he inspired me to play a much bigger game and step into my potential.

I and everyone who worked with him trusted him implicitly because we knew he saw more for us than we saw in ourselves. This trust this leader grew in our team meant that we out-performed, out-shone and outstripped all we had done before and loved every moment of it! His entire focus was upon building trust in the workplace and, boy oh boy, did performance follow.

If you put into practice each of these elements - trust in the workplace will follow. With trust comes performance. Pure and Simple!

Have Your Say

What have you done to build trust in your workplace? Or what have you seen happen that has caused trust to be lowered and performance to fail?

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