Missing Pieces of Trust in Work Relationships?

Trust is intangible, but it does not have to be a puzzle, a guessing game, or an accident.

Just as you can learn to be a more charismatic leader, meaning you are more likable by those you manage, you can learn to develop trust. Charisma can be immediate when you smile and look people directly in the eye as you present a vision of the future; but trust develops over time, much like a retirement account grows with compound interest.

In the financial world, a trust is established to determine how a person’s money should be managed and distributed after death. Using this analogy, a manager can establish a trust account with every person with whom they interface in the company to ensure communication remains open and authentic. Trust in this account can steadily grow with daily interactions.

A financial trust helps an estate avoid taxes and probate. In business, a trust account between two people helps avoid disagreements while maintaining congenial conversations and working together cooperatively.  

In previous centuries, a handshake, or a gentleman’s agreement, was contract enough for both parties to keep their promise. Today, individuals are more wary. Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States said, “Trust but verify.”

People value reliability and trust dependable services. We trust the garbage will be picked up, Amazon will deliver the package as promised, and investments will deliver expected returns. You trust these services but when they don’t deliver as promised, you verify they did not fulfill their end of the bargain and you have the option of choosing another service. How many times have you changed cell phone service and found one that will not break up, eliminating the need to say, “Can you hear me now?”

However, individuals do not often have the option of changing their managers in the same way. What makes them trust you if they are new to your team? How fast do they give you their personal information that makes it easy for you to engage with them and to lead them? 

As an example, when we considered the purchase of a new home, immediately the banker/mortgage broker and the real estate agent had tons of our personal financial information.

Recently my doctor retired, and I had my first visit with a new one. Yes, out of my mouth came tons of personal medical information. Why do you trust a doctor, surgeon, or anesthesiologist with your life? Why do you trust a banker, mortgage broker, or real estate agent with your financial information? 

One reason is because you need their expertise and services. Before trusting any individual in one of these occupations, however, you ask friends for recommendations and Google their names to see if anything negative pops up on the Internet. Upon meeting the person, you look into their eyes and try to assess their expertise, integrity, sincerity, honesty, reliability, and many other character traits. Being satisfied, you engage their services.

Similarly, your employees need you, their manager and leader, to achieve their goals: a paycheck, professional development, and promotions. They trust you to deliver what you promise, just like Amazon or their broker.  Unbeknownst to you, they are verifying your competence by looking at the framed certificates and credentials on your walls, observing your integrity as you conduct meetings, and assessing your credibility as you meet deadlines. They are grading your trustworthiness and integrity from poor to excellent through observation, interactions, and intuition.

In the manager-employee relationship, employees believe their eyes more than their ears. When employees hear, “trust me,” the verification process begins because trust must be earned. 

Isaac Watts, English Congregational minister and writer of the hymn, Joy to the World, wrote, “Learning to trust is one of life’s most difficult tasks.”

When you have mutual trust, it is easier to forgive mistakes and missteps and believe in the good that resides in the person. You respect the strengths of the other person and vice-versa. Mutual trust allows you to be vulnerable and open up to the person without having to defensively protect yourself.

Here are 5 tips to help you build trust with your employees, colleagues, and customers. 

  • Go first. Novelist Earnest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” If you trust them, they will trust you back.
  • Be candid. Offer employees and colleagues psychological safety, meaning they can be candid with you. In return, as their forthright truths and realities surface, you will not chastise or retaliate, but you will listen with the intent to understand.
  • Be vulnerable. You acknowledge mistakes or errors, apologize when appropriate, and ask for help when needed. If you make an error, admit the error, and make it right. You will be known as a person of integrity.
  • Demonstrate you “have their backs.” When you stand up for your employee and give them the benefit of a doubt in situations that are questioned and you come through for them when the chips are down, they will run through brick walls for you.
  • Be true to your word. To gain the trust of your employees and colleagues, be true to your assurances of action and refrain from making promises you cannot keep.

Trust is the glue of work relationships. Ironically it may take years of consistent action to develop authentic trust with an individual and 10 minutes to destroy that trust. But that discussion is for another blog post.

About the Expert

Karla Brandau is a 25-year veteran of the speaking and training industry. Her book, “How to Earn the Gift of Discretionary Effort,” positions her as a thought leader and expert in re-calibrating leadership for the 21st century. Her presentations help managers become the leader people CHOOSE to follow not HAVE to follow because of their place on the organization chart.

She has spoken for Coca-Cola Enterprises, Panasonic, BYD America, National Facilities Management and Technology Conference, US Poultry and Egg Association, the Mortgage Bankers Association, and the National Kitchen and Bath Association.  

Certifications include Certified Speaking Professional, Certified Facilitator, Registered Corporate Coach, Certified Professional Behaviors Analyst, Certified Professional Motivators Analyst, and EQi-2.0 Emotional Intelligence Facilitator.