Trusting It'll Work

Trusting It'll Work

Trust is the foundation that we build any relationship – from our family, to friends, and yes, even in our workplaces.  Trust enables teams to work effectively together, to create synergy when the group is more valuable than the sum of its parts.  There is a sense of safety in trust. If I trust we are all doing our best, if I trust that we all have the group’s goal in mind (not individual priorities), then I’m more likely to feel safe to debate a concern or question if we are doing things the best way possible and to know my team will provide the benefit of the doubt it I fail or make a mistake (also known as “psychological safety”). 

Yet, in times when trust feel so far away, how do we get there?  Do you personally start with trust inherently? Or do you make people earn it?  How does trust form going upward to our business/leadership? Laterally to our teams and peers?  Cascading down to our direct reports? Rippling out in our world outside of work? 

While it’d be great if we could establish step A, step B, step C and voilà!  There’s trust!  That’s, unfortunately, not a realistic path to build trust.  The path to trust can vary based on the type or nature of the relationship, the past experiences we all bring to new situations, the dynamic intersection of personalities, and so many more nuanced factors. 

Trust at Work

Trust is built on actions, consistency and transparency. Employees expect more social awareness and engagement from their employers today and want to see actions in alignment with those expectations. We want to feel we are part of something bigger, helping serve a bigger purpose than simply making a dollar (even though that’s also important). Edleman research has found “Employees’ expectation that prospective employers will join them in taking action on societal issues (67%) is nearly as high as their expectations of personal empowerment (74%) and job opportunity (80%).” So while it at times feels like trust and honesty are degrading in society at large, employers have the opportunity to become change partners in leading a solution to reestablish trust.

Modeling trustworthiness at the organization and senior leadership-level can then create waves that wash over the rest of the organization in creating a trusting culture that leads to more effective results.  There are significant benefits that can be seen within organizations when you trust your people and your people trust you. It may take time, but it’s not hard. We simply have to believe we can be better than we are today and then take intentional action to make it so.

The Edelman Trust Barometer reported that “Employees who have trust in their employer are far more likely to engage in beneficial actions on their behalf—they will advocate for the organization (a 39-point trust advantage), are more engaged (33 points), and remain far more loyal (38 points) and committed (31 points) than their more skeptical counterparts.” But it takes intentionality and commitment to get there; it’s more than simply saying “trust me.”

The Key Role of Emotional Intelligence

It takes all of us, not just leaders and organizations, to proactively drive a trusting culture. Every individual has a role to play in building trust with others. The Institute for Social + Emotional Intelligence defines “Building Trust” as one of their emotional intelligence competencies.  Part of their definition includes, “Being trustworthy means to be ethical when working with and relating to others. It means doing the right thing even when you know no one will find out. When you are a trust builder, others have confidence that your actions are consistent with your words and know that you have their best interests at heart — not only your own.”

Trust also appears in a number of other emotional intelligence competencies including Integrity, Teamwork & Collaboration, and Building Bonds – as you may expect a majority of the trust-related competencies are in the relationship management domain.  Truly effective leaders have strong emotional intelligence and are able to use this understanding in a way that actively builds trusting relationships.

If employees don’t see their leaders acting in accordance with and valuing trustworthiness, it becomes that much harder to create trusting teams down the line.  Conversely, effective leadership (those individuals with a “leader” title or not) leads directly into creating a culture of trust and the positive ripple effects of more successful, productive teams.

Creating a Culture of Trust

Ernest Hemingway once said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

While this may be easier said than done, it does make sense.  Are you creating a self-fulfilling prophecy if you go into a new relationship assuming the person can’t be trusted?  Our personal lives and our work lives are built around interconnections. We interact with people everyday which means relationships are the basis of all our connections – successful or not.  Building a foundation of trust is critical for anything else to grow. Creating a culture of accountability, healthy debate, effective teamwork, and results, all takes trust in one another. Here are a few ways to start establishing this foundation which allows us to collectively grow greater than we are individually.

  • Live it.  At both the organization-level and the individual-level, be true to your values.  If you have a value of integrity, transparency, collaboration, or whatever it may be – live it.  Be obvious about it. Reinforce it. 

  • Be self-aware.  It takes vulnerability to trust others.  Be cognizant of when you are jumping to conclusions, when you start with a negative assumption and where you have the opportunity for development of your emotional intelligence competencies to become a more effective teammate and contributor to the world.

  • Be open and honest.  Don’t hide your own weaknesses, mistakes, or failures.  Showing you are human with others can establish trust and demonstrate how you are committed to improvement as well.

  • Give the benefit of the doubt.  None of us are perfect—shocking, I know.  Could it be true that they are doing the best they can?  Assume positive intent. Take a growth-mindset perspective and choose to believe that personal development is a never-ending journey.

  • Ask for help.  Do you trust people who never ask for help?  Asking for help is not a sign of weakness but rather shows you have self-awareness of your limits and that you recognize the value in others who can help you.  For as long as humankind has been on Earth, we’ve been a group species; we are not meant to go it alone.


To gain trust – be trustworthy.

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