What You Can Do To

Build Trust In The Workplace

How leaders can build a history of trust in the workplace

Trust in the workplace (or in life) depends upon history. For example, if your leader regularly disappoints you by providing shoddy information and direction, you will be less trusting of him or her 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's no different in the workplace. Especially if you are new to a team.

However, as the leader of your team, it is your responsibility to build a history of trust in the workplace so that you minimize the distance your team members need to "leap" in faith. But when people trust you, they will figuratively leap off cliffs for you!

Trust in the workplace can require a 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 take a look at the five elements that build trust in the workplace:

1. Do you believe in yourself?

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

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. And those weird behaviors are what trash trust.

Put Your Success Above Others, and You'll Fail!

Here's an example of a client who struggled to achieve success because he had severely damaged trust in his team.

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 was that deep down, Jim didn't believe in himself and his innate worth. 

He was hungering badly for the CEO role to proove 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 way too hard and so on.

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

Put your success and desires in front of your team members

and you'll put the brakes on trust in the workplace

The reality was, when push came to shove, he put his own success and desires everyone else. A sure-fired way to put the brakes on trust in the workplace.

Eventually, Jim had the 'aha' moment and acknowledged his lack of belief in himself and the damage it was doing to his reputation and the people around him. 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. Instead, he spent time focusing on building his sense of self. Becoming the supportive, empowering leader that he wanted to be.

As he began to make changes, 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.' They began to perform at much higher levels.

Funnily enough, within a couple of years 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 can build 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

2. Do you care?

People want to know that they are important to you and you have their best interests at heart. The question rattling around in their minds is something along the lines of: "Do you care about my success as well as your own?"

People are unlikely to trust you if they believe you will sell them up the river for your 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. While 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.

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. Work that 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 tell me how much you care about the people who report to you. It will 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.


3. Are you reliable?

This is possibly one of the most significant 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. Keep them!

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

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Be known for keeping your promises and you'll build trust in the workplace

One of the most damaging lines used in any organization is, "Sorry, I didn't get to it, something else came up."

Never make an agreement that you don't fully intend to keep, no matter how small.

If you make an agreement with someone - make sure you deliver. If you say to a team member that you will meet with them at 2 pm on Friday, to see how they are going. Come hell, or high water be there at 2 pm on Friday. Or give them plenty of notice if you can't.

Your reputation relies on it. 

People will long remember when you didn't meet your commitments. Or weren't true to your word. Or when you placed them low on your priority list.

It's true that priorities change. But what is not okay, is that people don't talk about the shifting priorities. So be squeaky clean yourself in this area.

It is your reliability by which people judge how far to extend their trust

What to do if someone breaks their commitments to you

If a person uses the excuse, "Something came up." this is a violation of trust.

The problem isn't necessarily that the person changed his/her priorities; the problem is that they didn't have the courtesy to tell you.

And, by leaving you out of the loop s/he's created a trust issue. To hold people responsible, you must continuously use the sentence, "If something comes up, let me know as soon as you can."

Then, if the person doesn't do that, you must call them on it. 'We had an agreement that (whatever was agreed). When our agreements get broken like this I lose trust/faith in you. What needs to happen, so that we don't face this again'?

You may not be that short in a real conversation. But you get the drift of the intent and content of the discussion you need to have.

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? What you say, and what you do, and what you say, about what you did, are always aligned?

4. 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 aren't capable in today's rapidly changing world, then you simply aren't relevant. 

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. If 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/need to enhance and grow?

Use our  training My Career, My Choice to complete a self-assessment on where you need to grow and develop so you remain relevant has a high-performance leader

5. 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, they want you to still find them a worthwhile person. That you 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 a right royal pain in the neck. However, here's a fundamental belief. Most people want to be approved of and liked. Most people don't want to be "that" person. Their lack of skill, capability, maturity might be getting in the way of their potential.

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. I was 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. I could have (and should have) 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 holding you back and what makes your heart sing at work".

That one conversation changed me forever. It set me on the path to where I sit today. This new leader saw beyond my current behavior, to the potential that resided within me.

He was the toughest leader I ever had. 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. The 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 our performance skyrocket!

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

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