Let me ask you… can a relationship work without trust? What about the people you work with? Do they trust them? Do they trust you? Does it even matter?
When we think about our relationships with friends or romantic partners, the answer, for many of us, is that relationships have to be based in trust, and definitely cannot work without it. But, when it comes to our professional circles, are relationships based on trust, or is something else at play?
After all, these aren’t relationships we’ve chosen – at least, not in the way we’d choose a friend or spouse. Can trust truly exist there? Can these relationships work without trust? How do you build trust in professional relationships, or repair when trust is broken?
Why is Trust Missing From Professional Relationships?
I think a huge part of it is that we simply don’t expect trust to exist in these dynamics. There may even be a lot of untrustworthy activity going on around us, things we’ve experienced throughout our careers, or things we’ve been told about “the big, bad business world” that have led us to be distrustful. And, let’s face it. In a world with money and competition at the center, genuine reasons not to trust will crop up.
The problem is, distrust leads to more distrust. It spills over into all of our professional relationships, and leads us to approach our work environment from the perspective of needing to protect ourselves. We end up investing time and energy into protecting our image and even our job, instead of being empowered to focus on success. This holds us back from working well together as a team, and from reaching our full potential as individuals and teams.
Why Should Leaders Embrace Trust?
What happens when you lose trust in a relationship? You stop feeling any sense of loyalty to the other person.
As leaders, it’s important that the people we serve know that we’re in their corner. That makes it safe to take calculated risks, be creative, share ‘territory’ with others, embrace growth opportunities, try new things, and so on.
If you want the people you lead to truly work with you, to be invested in their work, to be dedicated to achieving objectives, to be committed to collaboration, and to be genuinely fired up about putting their all into what they do… trust matters.
So… you need people to trust you. How do you do that?
How Do You Fix Trust Issues in Your Team?
Like so many things, it starts with you. There are 2 key things you need to do to build trust within your team:
1.) Protect your people.
Leadership is a responsibility. A responsibility to organizational success, and to the success and safety of the people you lead. You are responsible for creating an environment where their success is fully supported, where they are free to speak their truth, where they have the resources to grow, and where they don’t feel the need to protect themselves. They know that you will always treat them with respect, and that you won’t hesitate to put yourself between them and anyone or anything that may impede their success or well-being at work.
2.) Trust your people.
Just as distrust leads to more distrust, trust leads to more trust. When you trust that people are naturally creative, resourceful and whole; that they are capable of success; that they want to do well; that they are doing their best from where they are and with what they have… they feel that. It changes the relationship they have with you, and with their job. It also makes them more likely to trust you. Trust, like so many things, must be a two-way street. If you want people to trust you, trust them first.
How to Build Trust in a New Team or Existing Team
If you’re just starting out with a new team, that’s an ideal time to set a foundation of trust. If you’re working with an existing team, building trust is still absolutely possible, and just as critical to the success of the team.
Think of a house being built from scratch. It’s a lot easier to pour a strong foundation to start with. When an older house has foundation problems, it becomes more complex and time-consuming to repair the damage and bring in solid supports. Yet, it’s no less doable, and putting in that work often creates something really incredible.
Whether you’re working with a new or existing team, consistency will be key, as well as full honesty when you mess up (more on that below).
Here are 7 keys to building trust within your team:
1.) Put self-management first.
Nobody can trust a loose cannon. Maybe you aren’t quite a ticking time bomb, but if you aren’t acting from a place of self-management, odds are that your emotional state is calling the shots. Even – actually, often – without you being fully aware of it.
Without self-management, your behavior, reactions, decisions and so on will lack consistency, and won’t always be aligned with your core values and inner leader.
People don’t always consciously notice this, but they are almost always aware of it unconsciously. They sense that something isn’t quite right and they will have a hard time connecting with you and trusting you. After all, if you aren’t truly connected with yourself, how can anyone else be?
Self-management is a complex thing, and it is tied up with self-awareness, self-esteem, emotional intelligence and much more. Here is a great starting point for developing self-management.
2.) Practice servant leadership.
The servant leader understands that a huge part of their role is to ensure the resources and protection their team needs in order to succeed. That means putting yourself in front of anything that might impede their work or well-being, and advocating for whatever they may need to achieve their objectives.
It’s important to recognize that a servant leadership approach does not guarantee outcomes. In all things, we can only truly control our own approach, not the outcome. What matters is that you put in the effort, and your team sees you working on their behalf. This goes a long way towards building trust. They know you can’t guarantee outcomes, but they also know you’ll do everything you can regardless.
3.) Make inclusivity a top priority.
Inclusivity is, first and foremost, about cultivating an environment where everyone feels a sense of psychological safety and belonging. In a truly inclusive environment, people don’t need to devote energy to protecting themselves from toxic behaviours, microaggressions, discrimination, and so on. They also know that they will be believed and supported if they do experience problematic behaviours from others, even when it comes to customers or clients.
When you make inclusivity a cornerstone of your leadership approach – not just in your words, but in how you act and the decisions you make – people are more able to trust you. You become a source of true leadership, rather than just another person they need to tiptoe around.
4.) Let people see you struggle and ask for help.
Struggle is common ground. We all experience it. Yet, we all seem to feel like we need to hide it. Like it’s something shameful. This is part of why it’s so hard for many of us to ask for help. We’re afraid to admit that we’re struggling!
For trust to grow, it needs to be ok to struggle and to ask for help. As a leader, you need to lead that charge. Remember Brené Brown’s definition of shame as the fear of disconnection and use that to create connection. Lean into your own struggles. Show people that there’s no shame in it, and connect with them by asking for help.
This could sound like, “I promised you all that I’d go to bat for you on this issue, but I find myself struggling with how to make our case. Can anyone spare 30 minutes to brainstorm?” or “I’m feeling overwhelmed getting everything together for our quarterly review. Is anyone good with graphs and open to helping out?” or even “My eyes need a screen break. Anyone up for a walk to the cafe and back?” (As a bonus, these little impromptu breaks are a great way to let people see you as human, and to build better relationships overall.)
5.) Focus on objectives, needs and challenges.
In professional settings, what we produce or achieve is critical. After all, output is the reason for a business existing. Because of that, it’s understandable that leaders may focus heavily on output. The problem is, when output comes above all else, it feeds a culture of fear. People are afraid to be seen as failing or struggling. This makes it harder to speak up, can lead to problematic self-protective behaviors, and actually makes it harder to achieve goals. Exactly the opposite of what we want!
When you focus primarily on objectives, needs and challenges – over and above the end result – the result is two-fold:
First, you actually end up giving people what they need from you in order to succeed. Second, people are more likely to trust you when they are faced with a need or challenge.
The Arbinger Institute uses this approach in their Meet and Learn Tool as a way to get to know people and build relationships of trust. If someone is afraid of your reaction when a problem comes up, that gives them a reason not to tell you. However, if they trust that your reaction will be to help find solutions, that gives them a reason to be open and honest.
This doesn’t mean you don’t care about output. It means you put greater focus on what’s needed to achieve desired outputs. That can look like swapping out “Are you on track to meet the deadline” for “What support do you need to meet the deadline?” Or swapping “Why do these numbers look like we’re off track” for “What are our challenges here? What’s needed from me or the organization to bring these numbers up?”
6.) Adopt a co-creative approach.
If you look at the two examples in point #5, you may notice that my suggested swaps aren’t just about uncovering needs and challenges, but also take an us-together approach. This is what it means to be co-creative. It means that, as leaders, we never see a situation as “me against you”, but as “you and me against the problem.”In all things, ask yourself, “How can I approach this from a co-creative mindset?”
If we go back to the house-building analogy, every time you take this approach, you’re adding another brick of trust to the overall structure. The whole thing isn’t going to take shape with one or two bricks. But, intentional brick after intentional brick will gradually result in something solid and dependable.
In all things, ask yourself, “How can I approach this from a co-creative mindset?”
7.) Cultivate an outward mindset.
Ok, in #1 I advised you to look within. Now I’m telling you to look outward? What’s up? It’s all about where we start. Too often, we look outward to understand ourselves and our world, then inward to “fix” ourselves. What we need to do is look inward to connect with ourselves, then outward for the impact we want to have.
An outward mindset is not about taking responsibility for things you can’t control. It’s about taking unconditional responsibility for what you can control, and the impact that has on the people around you. If you are truly doing the work to be someone who is trustworthy and trusting – not just in how you see yourself, but in your behavior with others – and others simply aren’t rising up to meet you, then yes, that’s outside your circle of influence. However, if there is anything you can do on your end to show that you are a person worthy of trust, you need to do that. Commit to getting real about what your behavior patterns say to the people around you. Are you open? Are you honest? Do you trust others with your vulnerability?
Do the inner work. Make that your top priority. And, as part of that inner work, regularly take stock of your impact on the world around you. Ask yourself, “What impact do I want to have? How is it different from the impact I am having? What do I need to shift?”
The truth is that, without hard evidence, we can’t truly know if someone is trustworthy or not. What we do know is that we have a greater chance of connecting with others, having a positive influence, and cultivating cultures of mutual trust and respect when we start with trust.I can’t say this enough: trust always brings more trust. Professional relationships are different, in many ways, from our personal relationships. Yet, they can be just as impactful to our overall well-being, given the amount of time and energy we spend at work. Trust matters in these relationships. Without trust – on all sides – we can never fully step into the full spectrum of our brilliance, strength and uniqueness. The very things that make us thrive at work and help teams and organizations continually take themselves to the next level.
Courtesy CEO of Your Life. By Melissa Dawn. Article available here.