Five steps to building trust

trust Jul 10, 2021

"Trust me."

Companies want you to trust them. Colleagues want and need your trust to get their work done.

Trust is the glue that holds us together, according to Lucy Marcus, the CEO of Marcus Venture Consulting, and Professor of Leadership and Governance at IE Business School.

Writing for the BBC Worklife series, she says: “We buy and sell things to other people via eBay and the transaction is based on trust. We get into other people's cars with a service like Uber or let strangers stay in our homes with Airbnb, and that requires taking a big leap of faith.“

The importance of trust is a point taken up in a World of Work podcast: “Individuals who are trustworthy have better relationships with others and are usually more able to perform their roles effectively. Interestingly, they also usually have high levels of personal satisfaction. Trust is also an important factor in organizational cultures. Where trust is high, there is less risk of social threat and employee experience tends to be better.”

But how do we really earn trust? And what benchmarks can we use to ensure that others are worthy of our trust? Trustworthiness may be a reflection of an individual’s character. but there are some simple things we can do to improve how trustworthy others consider us to be. Here are five ideas to consider.

1 - Deliver on promises

Deliver quality. If you’ve said you’ll do something, you need to deliver to a sufficient standard to be trusted. Writing in The Balance/Small Business, Laurel Delaney says: “Every time you follow through on a commitment, small or large, you build trust. And if you go above and beyond, you make an even stronger impression. So, if you say you are going to email prices to your customer by tomorrow, try for today.”

Turn up on time to meetings. Don’t cancel meetings at the last minute. Simple actions like this show respect and help build trust, particularly with more junior individuals.

2 - Show an interest in others

Listen to people and show a genuine interest in what they tell you. You have to demonstrate a real interest in the hopes and fears of others. Practice active listening. Slow down and reflect on what you are hearing, rather than rushing to add something to the conversation.

Ask for feedback from others. Listen to it, and think about it, before responding. You don’t always need to accept it, but the act of hearing and acknowledging it can help build trust. And tell people what you honestly think. Others might not agree with you, but they’ll trust that you are honestly contributing to a conversation.

3 - Be honest and open

If you want people to trust you or your company, you must be willing to share at least some of the information that feeds into the decisions you are making, says Lucy Marcus. “Board members who ask probing questions demonstrate good stewardship. When consumers do the same thing, they show that they are engaged with, and educated about, a product or service.” Reward them with straight answers. And Marcus says transparency is particularly important when there is a need to rebuild trust.

Sticking with the theme of honesty, admit when you are straying outside your area of expertise. The creators of the World of Work Project podcast put it like this: “It’s better to be honest and say you don’t know than pretend you do know, only to later be shown to have been dishonest.”

4 - Be ethical

Treat colleagues and clients with respect and regard. Lucy Marcus says even those who seem at first to get ahead with unethical behaviour will eventually find they need to call on colleagues for support - only to discover that support is not there. Consumers, clients and communities are no longer willing to accept unethical behaviour. “Building trust now requires companies to be good corporate citizens and to have a real commitment to social responsibility. Investors, consumers, clients and partners care deeply when they think that companies are associated with poor labour practices.”

5 - Don't just talk about it — do it

Actions speak louder than words. Saying ‘trust me' or having a carefully crafted mission statement isn't enough. And the actions don’t have to be grand or dramatic. Start small. Small actions can have the biggest impact over time. Live in line with your values. Even a whiff of hypocrisy has the power to significantly damage both trust and respect.

According to the World of Work podcast, developing a culture of trust in the workplace brings many benefits. Where trust is higher, people tend to have more psychological safety and fewer social threats. As a result, employee experience is better, as is employee engagement, and employees are better at giving feedback. 

Demonstrating trustworthiness has to be in the DNA of a company. It must be proven by word and by deed, from the boardroom through to the shop front, the factory floor, and the person who greets staff and clients as they walk through the doors.

According to Lucy Marcus, mission statements and statements of intent may lay out your plans, but only by following through with concrete and transparent actions will trust be built, either in developing loyal and strong relationships with colleagues or long lasting relationships with customers and the community.