10 Behaviors that Build Trust

Last week we shared a list of Ten Behaviors that Kill Trust. I admit, presenting things in such a negative light went against the grain. So, being a glass-half-full kind of person, I decided to flip it around and offer some best practices and behaviors for building trust to counteract last week’s worst practices.

Trust by Jol Ito, Flickr

Building trust in the workplace starts with being trustworthy. Here are ten behaviors you can practice to become more trustworthy and build trust.

  1. Be honest: Be a truth-teller. Become known for answering questions honestly and telling the truth, even in difficult workplace situations. When you’ve made a mistake, own up and apologize. People trust people who don’t lie.
  2. Provide realistic risk assessments: The person who stays calm in a crisis and helps others stay focused is easier to trust than someone who enjoys whipping everyone up into an adrenaline frenzy at the slightest sign of trouble. When a crisis occurs, focus on providing a realistic risk assessment and pursuing actions that move people away from panic and toward problem resolution.
  3. Share information: Shining the light of transparency on the organization, yourself and your work shows people that you have no hidden agenda. Most people dislike feeling uninformed and out of the loop. Unless information is confidential, share it to build trust. When you do, you also demonstrate that inclusion is more important to you than control, which further reinforces your trustworthiness.
  4. Be congruent:  You may have heard this powerful quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” Or the well-known idiom with a similar message, “Actions speak louder than words.” Both statements express the fundamental disconnect people feel when a person says one thing and does another. It’s almost impossible to trust someone who’s incongruent in this way because our survival instinct kicks in and we become instantly suspicious. If you want people to trust you, make sure your actions align with your words.
  5. Build people up: Behavior that seeks to build up others (as long as it’s even-handed and doesn’t show favoritism) shows a commitment to the success of the team, which fosters trust. In the words of David Ogden Stiers (subsequently paraphrased by Stitch in Disney’s Lilo and Stitch) “Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.” Actively and publicly building up co-workers and reports makes them feel part of something bigger—much like being part of a family that “has their back.”
  6. Treat everyone with respect: Dale Carnegie’s self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, has sold over 15 million copies since it was first published in 1936. The foundation of Carnegie’s approach is about gaining trust through a respectful and genuine interest in others. Long before Stephen Covey introduced his 7 Habits and shared #5: Seek First to Understand; Carnegie wrote “To change somebody’s behavior, change the level of respect she receives…” Being sincerely interested in and respectful of everyone you work with makes you easier to like and trust.
  7. Follow through: When you make a promise, deliver—even if only to explain an unavoidable delay. Call when you say you will. Send that follow-up email with details right away. Make the introduction you said you’d facilitate. To build trust, master follow through, because people trust people whose word is their bond.
  8. Give credit:  Make sure that credit is given where it’s due. Acknowledge everyone involved in a success, not just those who naturally stand out. Avoid letting co-worker’s steal each other’s thunder. Above all, be generous in acknowledging the contribution of others to your own success.
  9. Provide clear, consistent direction: Dependable, constant, resolute—these are words that inspire trust. Be known as a champion of “change for good reason” rather than a perpetrator of change for the sake of change (or to relieve your boredom!) Make it clear that you know where you’re going and why and that you don’t change direction on a whim.
  10. Communicate:  So much of trust is based on effective communication, as are many of the behaviors listed above. To build trust in your workplace; communicate well, communicate often, and communicate sincerely.

Building trust takes work. Destroying it can be effortless. Since we can’t change the behavior of others and only our own actions are entirely within our control, the best way to build trust is to start by examining and improving our own habits. Take stock. Are you practicing these ten behaviors? If not, it’s time to start. Build your bridges before you need them—create trust before a crisis and everyone in your organization will experience the value of a high trust working environment.


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