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5 Ways to Build Trust at Work


March 23, 2023

Based on the results of our recent LinkedIn poll, trust was identified as the most important leadership skill, which is consistent with research that finds trust is a core foundation for leaders.  Trust increases employee satisfaction, motivation, and engagement, which also improves organizational performance.

In his book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen MR. Covey, writes that the first job of a leader is to establish trust.  John Maxwell, in his book on the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership shares that leaders need to build a solid ground of trust by consistently exemplifying competence, connection, and character.  Studies have also found that employees who trust their leaders are more likely to be committed to their organization and work harder to achieve goals. Trust improves communication, collaboration, and problem-solving, while also reducing turnover and absenteeism.

Given what has been written and studied on trust, along with what we experience daily, we know that trust is a necessary component for leadership.  However, what are practical ways you can build trust at work starting today? Here are five we have found to be effective:

Five Ways to Build Trust at Work:

  1. Communicate effectively.  To build relationships with your team, we have found in our work with clients, Diane Egbers frequently talks about the four basic needs must be met: (1) Trust (2) Compassion (3) Stability and (4) Hope. Leaders who communicate effectively share information clearly, frequently, transparently, and with the right amount of positivity.  They are also strategic in when, where, and how they communicate.  You risk losing trust when you don’t share difficult news.  However, you also need to convey hope for a better future, which brings people together.  The method of communication is another consideration that could impact trust.  Deciding what information should be shared 1/1, in meetings, in-person, virtually, email, text, etc., can all influence trust with leadership.
  1. Keep commitments and follow through on promises.  It is easy to over-commit to your team. Additional responsibilities, fires need to be put out, and overall higher priorities can take over. While making commitments keep in mind, your word is your dependability, reliability, and your trustworthiness. Know that every time you commit and complete a promise it deepens the trust you build with your team.  If you can’t keep a commitment or follow through, be open and honest about why and apologize.  Leaders who show humility in not being perfect also engender trust.  When you admit it when you can’t do what you said, it gives your team permission to be more open with you as well.
  1. Show consistency in words and actions.  Harvard Business review recently published an article about trust, citing consistency as a core factor, including keeping promises, being transparent, and exhibiting ethical behavior. Leaders who display these behaviors are more likely to earn the trust of their employees, which in turn leads to improved relationships and better organizational outcomes. Consider creating a system for yourself for being intentional consistently which will provide deep-rooted valued trust. 
  1. Listen actively and respond to concerns and feedback.  When we think about deep listening, think about it as the ultimate sign of respect. The opportunity is to value listening to connect, learn, and grow and give someone the gift of our full attention. As hard as it is, it is what people deserve.  With the demands of technology at our fingertips it is easy to get distracted and not focus on the person speaking.  However, taking the time to listen to someone is worth it to build trust.  Some leaders also believe that they can ignore certain feedback and it will eventually go away. However, when we don’t respond to employee concerns, we create cracks in the relationship and demonstrate we may not be able to be trusted as a leader and as an organization, forcing employees to look elsewhere.
  1. Lead by example and hold yourself to high ethical standards.  Character, integrity, and ethics are core components for trust.  That means as leaders we need to lead by setting a high ethical standard.  When we refrain from engaging in gossip, keep the confidence of people when discussing confidential matters, and maintain a set of clearly defined values in how we communicate and behave, we demonstrate to our teams that we have character.  Team members want to know that their leader is worthy of their trust, so leading with character, ethics, and integrity are paramount to leadership.

As Dr. Angela Crawford wrote in a recent Leadership Trust article, Trust cannot be microwaved and the fragile plate it sits upon can shatter in an instance.  As leaders, we know that inside and outside of our workplaces, trust is the foundation for our relationships.  Maybe we have broken trust with someone or not always held ourselves to high ethical standards.  The good news is that rebuilding trust is also possible.  It just takes time and commitment. 

When you commit to these five behaviors each day (1) Communicating (2) Keeping Commitments (3) Showing Consistency (4) Actively Listening (5) Leading with Integrity, you will be on your way to building trust as a leader which ultimately creates a trusting culture where people and the organization can achieve a higher level of performance.