Building Trust

Creating Open, Honest Relationships

Building Trust - Creating Honest, Open Relationships

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Work as a team and build trust.

There are some roles and professions where trust is critical.

For instance, can you imagine being a firefighter, and not being able to trust other firefighters on your team? Or, a doctor, and not being able to trust certain nurses or physicians in the emergency room?

People who have jobs like this need to be able to trust the people they work with. Without that trust, lives can, and likely will, be lost.

When you trust the people you work with and do business with, you can work together seamlessly. You're more effective; you're happy to take worthwhile risks; and you can work securely, knowing that your co-workers will support you – just as you will support them.

In this article we're looking at trust – what it is, why it's important, and how you can develop it. We'll also explore what you can do to rebuild trust if it's been lost.

About Trust

According to researchers Denise Rousseau, Sim Sitkin, Ronald Burt, and Colin Camerer, trust in the workplace is defined as "a shared psychological state in a team that is characterized by an acceptance of vulnerability based on expectations of intentions or behaviors of others within the team."

Put in a simpler way, trust describes a situation where you're not worried about being vulnerable, because you're confident that the people around you will support you and won't take advantage of your vulnerability.

Trust is an essential element in all good workplace relationships, whether that relationship is between a manager and a team, between a sales rep and a client, or between an organization and its suppliers.

The Importance of Trust in the Workplace

Just think back to the last role you had where you didn't trust your boss. Chances are that you weren't as productive as you could have been. Your work quality might have suffered. What's worse, perhaps you and your team missed important opportunities or deadlines, because you weren't willing to "stick your neck out" for him.

Teams and organizations that lack trust quickly fall behind teams where people trust one another and trust their leaders.

For instance, research has shown that a good level of trust directly leads to healthy risk-taking in relationships. The higher the level of trust, the more that people are willing to take career risks for their leader or for their organization.

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That same research also uncovered some interesting trends in manager-employee relationships. In one set of studies, levels of trust predicted sales, profits, and employee turnover; and the more that teams trusted their leaders, the harder they worked, the less likely they were to quit, and the more money the organization earned.

Other research has also shown that high-trust organizations are more flexible, are better at creating strategic alliances, have more responsive teams, and are more effective at crisis management.

Put simply, trust is good for business!

Creating Trust in Teams

Successful teams are built on trust. If you've just stepped into a new role, or if you need to gain people's trust, there are several ways to build it:

Be a Good Role Model

Be a good role model and work and live by the values you want to see in your team.

When you "walk the walk," your team will start to do the same, and an atmosphere of trust will develop. (You can learn more about this with our Book Insight into Walk the Walk: The #1 Rule for Real Leaders.)

Be Honest

People will trust you if they can count on you to tell the truth, even when this is hard.

This includes telling the truth about yourself, or about any mistakes you've made. Your people will value this level of honesty, and will likely reciprocate.

If your position prohibits you from sharing certain information with your team, then be honest about this as well. Promise that as soon as you know something, or as soon as you get approval to share more information, you'll do so immediately.

Be a Team Player

As a leader, you need to speak up for and even defend your team from time to time – for example, if people are being criticized unfairly, or are being asked to deliver to an unreasonably tight deadline. When this happens, stay loyal to your team and say what you need to say.

When things go well, make sure that your team gets credit for team accomplishments, and ensure that your bosses know how hard your people are working.

When your team sees you sticking up for them, and spreading the word about their hard work, they'll put more trust in you.

Be Transparent

People will also trust you more if they can see, at any time, why decisions are being made the way they are. The more transparent you are with information, the more your people will understand why you do what you do. Communicate as openly as you can about decisions, processes and changes.

Encourage your team to participate openly in as many decisions are possible. By allowing them to ask questions and offer you their ideas, you demonstrate that you care about their input. Make sure you practice active listening here. If your team feels you're not really hearing what they have to say, you'll find it hard to gain their trust.

Avoid Micromanagement

Often, people see micromanagement as a lack of trust. After all, if you're constantly checking on what your people are doing, it must mean you don't trust them, right?

Avoid micromanagement when possible. Trust people to do their jobs right and well.


Trust is harder to build in situations where people are under a lot of stress, or where there is a lot at stake.

Building Trust With Clients Or Suppliers

Keep in mind that many of the tips we've just looked at can also be used for building trust with clients and suppliers.

Do Your Homework

Spend time learning about the client or company you're establishing a relationship with. Learn their history, and try to understand what their current needs are.

It can also be useful to find out about your client or supplier's industry, including learning about jargon and current industry trends. This research will prove that you've done your homework, and shows that you care, which is an important step in establishing trust.

Keep Your Word

If you promise to have a progress report to your client by the end of the day, make sure that they have it by then. If you said you'd call on Thursday, make sure you're on the phone with them when you promised.

Always keep your word to clients and suppliers, even for small matters. They'll notice, and they'll quickly learn to trust you.

Explain Details and Motivations

When you're negotiating with a new client or supplier, bear in mind that any demand you make will be likely be viewed negatively by the other party.

For instance, imagine that you're negotiating your commission rate with a new client. You let them know that your commission for international sales will be higher than national sales. Without any explanation, this could upset your client. Why are you charging more for international sales?

However, if you explain that your commission is split with another agent for international sales, your client is assured that the charge is genuine and justified. And, a sense of trust can develop.

Take time to explain your words, actions, and motivations with your client or supplier. The more they know about where you're coming from, the more they're going to feel comfortable trusting you.

Identify Expectations

You and your organization can't exceed your clients' expectations if you don't know what these are!

Start the relationship off well by asking your client or supplier outright what they're expecting from this partnership. This openness and forthrightness will likely surprise them, but the information you learn here will be invaluable.

Once you know their expectations, you can set about exceeding them. This level of commitment will go a long way towards building trust.


Identifying expectations is also highly important with members of your team. You can learn more about identifying people's unspoken expectations with our article on the Psychological Contract.

Rebuilding Trust

So, how does trust get broken? Common reasons include:

  1. Acting and speaking inconsistently.
  2. Striving for personal gain over team success.
  3. Withholding information.
  4. Telling lies, or only the partial truth.
  5. People not opening their minds to new ideas or innovations.

If you're working in a situation where trust has been broken, keep in mind that it's going to take time to rebuild it.

First, it's important to be open about how trust was lost. Sit everyone down, and acknowledge the situation. This can be a difficult conversation, especially if the betrayal of trust was severe. If you're nervous, prepare for the conversation using role-playing, which is a particularly effective technique for practicing how you'll handle difficult conversations.

Next, encourage people to talk openly about what happened and how they feel about it. Allowing everyone to express their pain, anger, or frustration is a big step towards letting it all go. This difficult conversation might cause conflict within the group, especially when loyalties are split. Learn how to resolve team conflict before the session, so that you can help to neutralize arguments and allow the team to talk effectively.

If trust was broken because of something you said or did, then take full responsibility for what happened and apologize sincerely. Let people know that you understand that you've lost their trust, but that you will work hard to gain it back again. Again, make sure that you "walk the walk" here.

If trust was broken because of something someone else has done, then meet with that person individually. Try to help them understand how their words or actions have impacted trust in the group. If possible, get them to take responsibility for what they have done, and apologize to the people affected.

Key Points

We have trust in the people we work with when we feel confident that we can be vulnerable in front of them. Organizations with a high level of trust are more successful, more effective, and more innovative than those that lack this level of trust.

To build trust within your team, be transparent with your information. Be an example of the values that you want to see in your people. And be as honest as you can be with information.

With clients and suppliers, work on building trust before the relationship even begins. Do your homework on their past history and needs, and "speak their language" when you talk with them. Then, work on building and maintaining their trust by keeping your promises, and by explaining your motivations.