“Just trust me on this.”
It’s a phrase that, well, just doesn’t inspire much trust. And that’s because trust has to be earned. Building trust at work isn’t always easy, but it’s the foundation of an effective and productive environment.
When your colleagues trust you (and you trust them), it makes for better collaboration, risk-taking, and innovation. It also ensures that everyone is comfortable being honest and transparent when issues arise.
What happens when there’s no trust?
Think about your personal relationships. Have you ever lost trust in a friend or family member?
Then you know a lack of trust can create feelings of instability, paranoia, and fear. This problem isn’t exclusive to personal relationships; Low trust can create the same issues at the office.
The consequences of lower trust will undermine all aspects of work. When team members feel like they have to be on guard, it’s a distraction. They become fixated on interpreting their colleague’s behaviors instead of on their own performance. For example; “Is Suzy setting me up to fail on this project?” or “Is Brian telling upper management untrue things about me?”
When trust doesn’t exist between coworkers, it pushes people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t. It can foster unhealthy competition among employees, where people may resort to unethical behavior and underhanded tactics to progress at work.
Also, staff may want to conceal their mistakes. This means things are regularly swept under the rug, instead of being properly dealt with. Because of a lack of trust, the staff is less likely to seek help when they need assistance. So, they’ll stick to the status quo, and will be less likely to innovate and take risks.
Productivity will also suffer. Team members are more likely to silo themselves among people they feel they can trust.
Finally, a high-stress work environment will lead to burnout and disengagement.
"It takes two to do the trust tango — the one who risks (the trustor) and the one who is trustworthy (the trustee); each must play their role." Charles H. Green, The Trusted Advisor
What does the data say about building trust at work?
In a 2022 report, global communications firm Edelman surveyed more than 7,000 respondents on trust and credibility in the workplace.
A little more than three-quarters of respondents said they trust their employer. One of the determinants of trust is whether staff feels they are trusted by upper management.
Approximately 29% of respondents said they don’t feel trusted by their CEO. This group was nearly half as likely to trust their employer than those who felt their CEO trusted them.
So how can you get better at building trust at work?
Here are 9 top behaviors for building trust at work:
Keep your promises. If you say you’re going to do something, make sure you follow through. It’s like the adage, “actions speak louder than words.” Trust is created over time by consistently making good on commitments. And it can be broken in an instant if you don’t come through. So it’s essential that you proactively let others know as soon as you realize you can’t deliver on a commitment. That way, you can reset expectations rather than break a promise.
Own your mistakes. When people try to dismiss their mistakes and blame others, it sows distrust. Instead, taking responsibility shows others that you acknowledge what went wrong and that you’ll take action to address it.
Listen. Okay, we mean really listen, not just wait for your turn to talk. People want to know that they’re seen and heard and that their perspectives matter. If you can demonstrate active listening and real curiosity about others, it builds trust. You can show this through eye contact, nodding, and reflecting back on what someone said with statements like “What I hear you saying is…” or “Let me see if I understand…”
Communicate with tact and respect. This one’s pretty simple – Treat others the way you want to be treated. But it’s not always easy to do, especially in the midst of stress or conflict. Work on pausing before you speak so you can respond thoughtfully and skillfully. When people feel respected, it builds trust.
No gossip. If you have concerns or grievances with someone, talk to them directly. Yes, this might feel hard and uncomfortable for many of us. But you can get better at it with practice. And having a hard conversation with a colleague actually increases trust. On the flip side, gossip and “backchannel” conversations create an environment where employees aren’t sure who to trust.
Support others’ goals. Communicate that you want to help colleagues be successful, and demonstrate that by offering them support, ideas, or resources. When you show that you have their best interests at heart, you build trust.
Celebrate others’ success. Take a moment to genuinely acknowledge and congratulate others when they succeed. This demonstrates that one person’s achievement is a win for everyone, and that boosts group cohesion and trust.
Find commonalities. Bring a bit of your out-of-office self to your work relationships, and find where you may share common interests or values with others. This creates connection and rapport, which also deepens trust.
Clarify expectations upfront. At the start of projects, the clearer you can be in aligning with colleagues on deadlines and deliverables, the more you’ll avoid misunderstandings and disappointments that will hurt trust.