You probably remember a moment when your boss had your back and you felt your trust go up a notch. Maybe they left you in charge while they were on vacation and you knocked it out of the park.
Perhaps you were the trust builder, remembering your team member’s wedding anniversary and sending something on their special day. These moments take time and patience to curate and are important. The are cumulative and provide evidence of trust.
Although trust is often referred to as a feeling, that is only part of a potential definition. Trust is also commonly built or destroyed based on behavioral evidence. For example, being unsure we trust someone means we have insufficient evidence to trust them. Likewise, when we don't trust someone, there is usually evidence to support our distrust.
The burden of proof is on the one to be trusted. If you are wondering why someone (or your team) doesn’t trust you, it’s time to get to work.
Let’s look at how to do this organically and genuinely, ensuring strong evidence-based trust.
5 ways to build trust organically
Make a personal connection
Research shows that making a personal connection is one of the most critical factors in building trust. We are most likely to trust when we feel known and understood, so trust becomes much more likely to form and remain when a leader invests time to understand what is important to us personally and professionally.
Leaders are often told to make personal connections. There is a time and a place for such connections, of course.
The challenge is to make connections personalized.
Taking time to talk to an analytical person about their last week's vacation in a business review meeting might communicate that you don't know them very well, for example, since they likely prepped stats and progress reports - making small talk cumbersome. Other employees may value personal conversation greatly, seeing it as required to show that you care. Getting to business too quickly is perhaps insulting, showing that you don't value them as a person.
To personalize connections, you must take the step to understand what they prefer, and you might be wondering the best way to do that.
My advice is simple: ask with clarity, listen with curiosity, and consistently engage with what you learn.
Paul Hegerty writes, "They are a supervisor who controls others rather than a leader who coordinates the ability, commitment, and responsibility of others. So people lose trust and confidence in their leaders." Most of us have had experience with managers who micromanage, and Hegerty's insight resonates. It is also not how proven leaders behave.
Micromanaging not only creates an unhealthy power dynamic that resists some of the basic building blocks of trust but also has other side effects. Attrition, poor engagement, decreased happiness, and lack of development can deteriorate when micromanaged. All of these also impact execution which will negatively affect the bottom line.
The takeaway here is micromanagement detracts from leaders. Please don't do it.
Historically, emotions have been something that belongs in our personal lives. Work was about performance, analysis, execution, and other powerful words that look good on our annual review. Times have changed.
Recent research suggests that working from home has negatively impacted trust. Six studies, in particular, indicate that acknowledging emotions can improve trust in the workplace. Notably, research also suggests that acknowledging negative emotions is more impactful on trust than acknowledging positive emotions. The same study also cautions us that this doesn't work all the time, and leaders should only use the technique when appropriate. The determining factor - make sure that you are ready to take on the burden and additional work.
Honor your commitments
There is no quicker path to ending trust than to fail to honor commitments. Commitments are promises to the people you make them to, and violating them will permanently tarnish your integrity.
Maggie Wooll writes on how to build trust that we might view trust as two types: practical and emotional. We usually think of practical trust as trusting someone to finish their work. Emotional trust, requiring a degree of emotional intelligence, address the need for us to keep our commitments to one another in both directions.
Give credit for work done.
Carolyn O'Hara writes, "No one wants a boss who hogs all the glory but dishes out harsh criticism when times get tough." What is interesting about her statement is that she wrote it 18 years ago, and it is not only accurate but also common.
Once a leader takes credit for someone else's work, there is a barrier to trust that may never be able to be broken. Know that people always find out. The leader looks like an abusive fraud, and the work's creator never gets the credit they deserve as the work itself now has a stigma.
Instead, give credit every chance you get and be specific. Don't give credit for an entire work when someone only contributed as a reviewer, for example, and that can set them up for others to have the wrong expectation.
These practices aren’t helpful if they aren’t integrated into your work. Let’s turn these into actions and not just concepts. Here are five things to do starting now:
- Next time you connect, approach with genuine curiosity and ask, “what’s most important to you right now, inside or outside of work.” Write it down, remember it, and help.
- Look at your list of things to do and ask yourself if each item is something only you can do or if it is something you can delegate. If your team lacks the skills to do something you should be able to delegate, take the time to teach them.
- When a team member tells you how they are feeling this week, acknowledge that feeling. If they say,” I’m proud of my team!”, keep the response light with “You should be proud - you’ve accomplished so much!”. If it’s more of, “I’m so stressed out!”, “Tell me more.” Goes a long way.
- Be disciplined in what you commit to, whether a 15-minute meeting or to find an answer. Treat every commitment as a promise because it is. If you screw it up, accept responsibility and apologize immediately.
- Acknowledge work done by others openly and even publicly. Saying thank you is important, but it’s not enough if it’s only done privately. If you are forwarding their work product to another team, tag them and give them credit.