advice on how to build trust in the workplace

Building Trust In The Workplace: The Most Common Misunderstanding

When trust breaks down between individuals or teams, relationships suffer — poor communication, hiding, defensive posturing, blame and other forms of aggressive and passive-aggressive behaviors ensue. The assumption is that the basis of that mistrust is in those relationship challenges. However, those are only the symptoms of mistrust, not the root of it.

The root cause of trust breaking down is rarely bad relationships. Trust is initiated by understanding, respecting and adhering to commitments, agreements and expectations. When it’s perceived that commitments, agreements or expectations are not being kept, we lose trust in the other person’s ability to come through. In more extreme cases, we take it personally as a show of disrespect for our relationship, level of authority and dedication to our common cause. As a result, our communication is affected and we become punitive or overly cautious in the relationship. We might begin doing workarounds that bypass the involved person to get our work and goals accomplished. At this point, the problem is not only an execution breakdown but also a relationship breakdown.

If you solve the breakdown at the relationship level — looking at different styles, asking for forgiveness, enhancing the level of respect we have for each other — but don’t address the misunderstanding or lack of alignment on commitments, agreements or expectations, the breakdown in trust will resurface.

Not having mutual understanding of commitments, agreements and expectations is the first basis of breakdown. The second basis is that we have agreement on commitments and expectations but not a clear understanding of the barriers, constraints and roadblocks for keeping those commitments and expectations.

Building trust in the workplace

Why is building trust in the workplace important? If your workplace lacks trust, it isn’t just a personnel problem for HR to take care of. Trust is a business issue – it can actually affect your bottom line.

Employee retention , achievement levels and even creativity all depend on building trust in teams . After all, employees won’t stick around in an environment where they don’t feel secure, and they won’t do their best work for leaders they don’t trust.

Most importantly, successful brainstorming and innovation depend on employees trusting each other with their ideas. The crazy, outrageous ideas are often the best, but your employees won’t feel comfortable sharing them if you don’t understand how to build trust in a team .

Ultimately, your goal is profits. You need a culture of innovation and productivity to get there. And for that, you must learn how to build trust with employees , from company policies to workplace relationships. When your approach inspires confidence, your staff and company are able to thrive.

Why is building trust in teams important?

Fifty-five percent of CEOs think that a lack of trust is a threat to their organization’s growth – and they’d be right. Trust is essential to building strong teams, and teamwork is essential to driving revenue and achieving growth: One study found that businesses with the most team engagement are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable than the least engaged businesses.

As tempting as it is to relegate trust to the realm of personal or romantic partnerships, the reality is that security forms the basis of every extraordinary relationship , including professional ones. Psychology Today reports that people lie in 20% of their conversations – with strangers, coworkers and even romantic partners. Most adults spend most of their time at work, making this capacity for deception especially detrimental to building trust in the workplace .

The power of trust is even further compounded by the current climate. Many people are working remotely, and organizations like Google are making plans to shift their business model to accommodate remote work even after the pandemic has passed. Building trust in teams becomes even more difficult when team members rarely interact in person, but it is especially essential in times like these.

How to build trust in a team

Learning how to build trust in a team of employees is critical for building a healthy company culture . When coworkers can trust each other, they are able to produce their most outstanding work.

1. Set the right expectations

Begin with the basics. Don’t tolerate lying, stealing or unprofessional behavior – ever. Set the bar high when it comes to quality of work and interactions with clients as well. These are areas where it’s important to have clear expectations and hold employees accountable.

At the same time, as Tony Robbins says, “Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” Like most business owners, your end goal is scaling and growth , followed by your exit strategy . Building trust in the workplace will help to keep the creativity flowing when you’re not there. You won’t get that by chastising employees for being three minutes late or taking time off when they need it. You’ll lose your best employees by focusing on strict rules that may seem important to you, but that ultimately break trust rather than build it.

how to build trust

2. Focus on the individual

how to build trust

If you want to truly inspire your team to do great work, you also need to discover what drives them as individuals. For some people, friendly relationships and team-building lead to trust; others just need cold hard data and results. Some people may need weekly 1:1s where they can talk to you openly – others might need to see precisely-executed work.

Building trust in the workplace boils down to the fact that businesses are the people they employ. By taking the time to find out what each person needs in order to trust you and each other – and then making it happen – you’ll nurture one-on-one trust between everyone onboard . That creates a workplace that fills many of the 6 human needs , from certainty and significance to connection, growth and contribution.

3. Build real relationships

Trust starts at the top: You can’t expect your employees to trust each other if they don’t trust their leadership. Build rapport and relationships by avoiding corporate jargon, and definitely don’t skip talking to employees at all. Even the C-suite needs to interact with employees on the front lines – and frequently.

When Acknowledgment Works (and When It Can Backfire)

Through our research, we found that even though people believe that acknowledging negative emotions leads to stronger social connections, they do it less often in their daily lives because (a) they think it is risky and (b) it requires an investment of time, energy, and effort. Further, because professionalism has long been associated with being stoic, rational, and unemotional, we can assume that most people are used to passing up opportunities to discuss emotions and build authentic connections at work.

That said, emotional acknowledgment is a tactic that should be used thoughtfully — not all the time. If your coworkers believe your actions are motivated by selfish reasons, it will be less effective, as people will assume that you are acknowledging them only for personal benefit. For instance, asking your boss what’s bothering them right before your performance review may be interpreted as manipulative. Emotional acknowledgment may also be less effective in competitive settings, where people might question the intent of the acknowledger.

Finally, we suspect that the language people use matters. Because emotions are personal and lie at the core of our identities, making assumptions about how other people feel can come off as imposing and presumptuous, and may even trigger defensiveness. As such, when the emotions you are observing seem ambiguous, it may be safer to use less direct language (“You seem anxious” rather than “You are feeling anxious”) or ask a question (“How are you feeling right now?”) rather than trying to impose a label (“Are you mad about something?”). This type of language leaves more room for the expresser to alter and correct the acknowledger’s interpretation.


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