To Earn Trust, Extend Trust

Show others you trust them.

Do you trust your employees? Better yet, do your employees trust you?

The research case for trust is clear: Employees who are less trusted by their manager exert less effort, are less productive, and are more likely to leave the organization. Employees who do feel trusted are higher performers who go above and beyond role expectations. Plus, when employees feel their supervisors trust them to get key tasks done, they have greater confidence in the workplace and perform at a higher level.

There’s no single measure or indicator of trust, but you basically know it when you see it:

Over the years, I’ve come to realize a not-so-tiny truth about trust:

If you want to earn trust, extend trust.

Or, put another way: Trust gives way to trust. If you want your employees (or your friends or family members, for that matter) to trust you, show them you trust them.

Easier said than done. But here are are a few ways you can forge high-trust relationships at work (and beyond) to create happier, healthier dynamics between you and others.

Trust, but verify

First, don’t assume that your employees have placed their trust in you. Learn to read their trust levels by understanding the risks and vulnerabilities they face. Take an inventory of the practices, policies, and controls found in your organization. (Here’s a nifty trust diagnostic that I’ve used with my clients.) When you look at policies from the perspective of the employee, are they designed to engage employees or to protect the organization from them? The picture may surprise you.

Give some ground

Second, recognize that trust starts at the top. Earning trust is best achieved through a series of incremental steps, like adequately scoping assignments, granting resource authority, and showing a healthy tolerance for mistakes. Rather than taking harsh corrective action, treat employee mistakes as opportunities to facilitate learning. People won’t trust you if they can’t be themselves around you.

Proactively partner up

Finally, if you want people to trust you, it’s crucial to communicate openly and honestly with them. Managers are often reluctant to share information and explain their decisions for fear of premature leaks, second-guessing, or dissension. Being transparent signals that you trust people with the truth, even in difficult circumstances. Trust can’t live in the dark.

How leaders can build trust

Leaders get the trust they deserve. If they commit to trust-building behaviors, they’ll create high-trust environments. People will do better work and feel better about the work they do. By contrast, leaders who practice trust-busting behaviors will end up producing low-trust (or even zero-trust) cultures where people wither and withdraw. The list of trust-busting behavior is long and varied, so let’s focus on the trust-building behaviors that get the best results.

First, be honest. Tell people the truth, even if it’s to your disadvantage. When communicating with others, use truthful non-verbal communication. Look people in the eye, and and use open body language. What we show matters more than what we say.

Next, communicate openly. Talk to your team members in an honest, meaningful way. Listen deeply for what’s being said (and what’s left unsaid). If you have important or relevant information, share it immediately with others. And be sure to meet face to face on a regular basis. People feel reassured when they know what’s going on.

Finally, forge relationships. Create a forum (WhatsApp group, Slack channel, etc.) for sharing “human” content like stories, quips, videos or memes. It may not be related to work, but it builds a stronger sense of community and comity. And find time to get together outside the office. Don’t underestimate the power of casual social activities after work.

Trust is hard to earn and even harder to keep. But if we carefully consider how our actions (direct and unintentional) play into people’s decision to trust us, we’ll not only do a better job at reading the trust landscape, we’ll get better results – and relationships – from the people closest to us.

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