Building Trust in the Workplace

There has been so much literature in the last few years about employee engagement, and how to build a great company culture. If there is one clear reason for organizations to create an amazing culture, I’d have to say the answer is trust. If employees trust you, and they perceive that what you’re doing is honestly in their best interest, and that you mean well, and have good intentions, then they will be engaged, and ready to perform.

Building trust in the workplace is serious business – and a key component of leadership success. Trust helps establish effective connections, and creates an environment in which others are motivated to achieve both individual and collective greatness. It's essential that managers and supervisors know how to build trust as a leader.

Very few people enjoy interacting with someone whose ego and sense of entitlement demand that respect based on title, privilege or other perceived unearned criteria. Respect is not assumed; it must be earned. One of the key principals of mutual respect is trust. Any leader who tries to manage others by coming from a place where they believe their experience, title, or wisdom entitles them to inherent respect will struggle to accomplish goals that a more humble leader will easily complete. As a leader, building trust in the workplace is vital - from the very first interaction each and every day.

How to Build Trust in a Team

Leaders need to build a level of comfort among team members, and that comfort can then grow into respecting leadership and mutually building trust in the workplace. People inherently want to be heard and understood. The importance of bonding and building rapport is important, because all things being equal:

  • People who are like one another tend to like one another, and people who like one another tend to trust one another.
  • People tend to be motivated and successful with people they trust.

Actively participating in bonding and building rapport during the communication process will enable leaders to consciously adjust speaking style, body language, and sensory cues to mirror the people with whom they need to connect. This active participation in the conversation is done subtly so team members are aware only of feeling familiar with their leader, and bonding and rapport can begin.

It's a common struggle with leaders who wonder how to build trust in a team. Here are some great tools to help increase awareness of active participation in the communication process and establish high trust in the workplace.

Honesty, Transparency, and Compassion

Honesty is the key to building trust. When you say something, you better mean it. This is the easiest way to ruin the trust with your employees. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep, and don’t be shy to admit you’ve made a mistake. Instead of shifting the blame, and assuming none of the responsibility, own up to whatever mistake you’ve made. Your employees will respect you more because of it.

Employees know right away when their boss is being honest, and if you communicate frequently and with full transparency, you’ll earn their trust and respect. This is particularly important during tough times. When the business isn’t doing as well, transparency means you communicate openly with your employees and openly explain as much as is appropriate to share. Communicate the vision and long term strategy of your organization with your employees. Make sure that everyone is aligned, and address any questions or concerns from your employees. Explain to them how their work will help reach that vision, thereby showing trust in them for however they end up getting there.

Sometimes employers talk the talk, but don’t really walk the walk. If they care about their employees, then they’ll offer them things like a flexible scheduleopportunities for personal growth, and make sure their employees have a strong work-life balance. When you show compassion for them, they’ll end up showing compassion for you. An authentic and trustworthy leader is one who has empathy and makes a conscious effort to get to know their employees on a deeper level.

Be Passionate & Knowledgable About Your Role

If you’re not passionate about what you are doing, how can you expect to motivate an entire team? When you show your passion to the other employees, they’ll be able to tell, and you should be communicating that passion to them. Try explaining to your employees why you’re so passionate, and how they could potentially become as passionate as you.

Being knowledgeable about your industry or product instills trust in your team because it shows them that you actually know what you’re talking about. Once they know that you know what you’re talking about, they’ll be more comfortable turning to you for questions and decisions. If you’re not that knowledgeable about your industry or product, become knowledgeable very quick. This is important for any leader who wants to earn their team's trust. Team members must have a firm belief that you know what you're doing and have confidence in your ability to get the job done.

Effective Communication

Understanding the impact of effective communication is crucial for building trust in the workplace. A trusted leader excels in communicating with others by exe,plifying the key elements of effective communication. Some elements of effective communication include body language, active listening, and choosing words carefully.  

Body Language

Body language is all about non-verbal communication. These include facial expressions, gestures, body movements, posture, eye contact. Matching and mirroring involves subtly modeling the audience's gestures, habits, words, tonality, etc. The audience will simply find themselves liking the speaker more if the speaker is modeling the audience's body language. This is because people feel understood, and therefor trust, when they perceive others to be more like them.

Active Listening

Active listening is simply reflecting back to the speaker the message you heard, so that you can either confirm or correct your understanding of that message. It also means being in the moment and intently listening on what is being said and what is not being said. Active listening is essential for building trust in the workplace. There are two ways to reflect the speaker's message:

  • Restatement – using their exact words
  • Paraphrasing – use their terms and words, not yours.

Choose Words Carefully

Words are either spoken or written or typed. The power of these elements are evident in the type of communications considered: In face to face meetings, 55% of effective communication is body language; 38% tonality and 7% are the words used. In telephone communication, 83% of effective communication is tonality and 17% are the words used. Using email or texting, 100% is the words used, therefore 93% of effective communication is missing from these interactions.

The words we use are clearly a critical part of building trust at work. This is especially true during times of conflict or confrontation. There are managers who don’t take any blame or don’t accept responsibility when something goes wrong, looking to shift the blame to someone else. The most trusted leaders understand the power in owning up to their mistakes, and saying sorry when they make a mistake.

Similarly, when something goes well, a smart leader will thank everyone else on the team except themselves. When employees know you’ll thank them and credit them for their work, they’ll be more motivated to do things properly, and that will establish a relationship of trust. Employee recognition is not something to shy away from. It needs to be an integral part of your organization. 

Harvard Business Review shared these 4 simple ways you can recognize a team member or team performance in order to build workplace trust:

  • Tell the employee exactly what was done correctly.
  • Tell the employee why the behavior is important and valued.
  • Stop for a moment of celebration.
  • Encourage repeat performance.

how to build trust in a team

Get To Know Employees & Their Personality Styles

Getting to know your employees on a more human, and personal level is a great way to build trust, by becoming closer with them. Make sure to take some time to have face-to-face meetings, and make sure to go around and personally ask employees how they’re doing. Make it a daily habit to talk to your employees and connect with them on a personal level. That personal touch is critically important to building trust and engaging associates.

Furthermore, all of your employees have different personality styles. In order to effectively relate to each person on your team, understanding their individual personality styles is an extremely effective tool. One method for identifying different personalities at work is the DISK method.

DISC defines the four personality styles as: D = Dominant, I = Influencer, S = Steady Relators and C = Concise/compliant.

  • D's are decisive, tough, impatient, strong willed, action orientated, opinionated, competitive, demanding, independent and direct. You will need to tell them the bottom line and give them few choices and let them decide how to proceed. They never want to give up control.
  • I's are personable, trusting, affable, creative, humorous, life of the party, implusive and intuitive. They like talking in terms of ideas, feelings and people, not fact and figures. Their biggest fear is not being liked.
  • S's are steady, amiable, patient people who know how to keep peace and avoid conflict. They prefer constancy and consistency and therefore do not like change or surprises. S's are deliberate, slow to make decisions.
  • C's are cautious thinkers and are careful not to make mistakes. Their biggest fear is being wrong. C's like to research everything in order to make a sound decision. In seeking the perfect answer they are typically analytical. They like getting to the point with no small talk.

By leveraging your knowledge of different personality types as you get to know your employees, you can better understand how to talk to people in a way that feels safe for them - therefore building understanding and trust. 

Primary Sensory Dominance

People process and understand information from one or two of three primary senses: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Understanding your own primary sense can help you better convey your messages and help you be more in tune with others' primary sense. By better relating to people in their preferred sense, you build trust.

55% of the population considers themselves to be "visual." More animated as they see and view things in their minds. They are show me people, tend to think fast, move fast and speak fast. Visual people are animated and use gestures as images are flashing in their heads. They hate to be interrupted and use their hands a lot. You'll hear them using words such as "see," "picture," "envision," "look."

About 20% of the population says they are "auditory." These people tend to communicate with themselves a great deal, hearing their words as they are spoken, often moving their lips in the process. They thrive on the spoken word and are very open to both sides of an argument and will speak slower and more deliberate than visuals. They tend to use words like "sound," "hear," "loud and clear," "ring a bell."

Kinesthetic people need to touch things to understand them, and represent about 25% of the population. These people measure their experiences on how they feel internally and there are those who like to touch, taste and feel. The tend to breath slowly and are very patient and intent when they speak. Use words like, "grasp," "hands on," "in touch," "get a handle on," "hang of it."

Factors That Break Down Trust

When it comes to building trust with any team, it is important for leaders to remember the old phrase, “actions speak louder than your words.” If a leader consistently says one thing but does another, the trust between that leader and the employee may be irreconcilably broken. Another major trust deterrent are leaders who take all the credit for a job well done, yet are quick to point fingers when something goes wrong. Make sure leaders work as a team or work on their own – but they cannot have it both ways and be successful.

Other factors that produce a trust deficit include:

  • Lack of communication
  • Inconsistent company values
  • Prioritizing production over employee relations
  • Frequent and unexplained changes
  • Poor working conditions

Tips For Building Trust as a Leader

The good news is that an effective leader can do several things to bridge the trust gap with their team, including:

  • Build relationships – The best way to build trust as a leader is to develop a personal connection with them.
  • Communication – Setting up a direct line of communication between yourself and your team is a crucial element to building trust. However, your team must know that you are going to stand by what you say and that they can come to you with their concerns as well.
  • Transparency – Leaders cannot share everything with their team, but they should strive to be as transparent as possible. When left in the dark, your team will often think the worst.
  • Follow Through – Following through with action is an absolute must if you hope to create a level of trust with your team. Otherwise, any steps you have taken to develop trust could backfire and create an even larger trust deficit.

Creating a bond with team members is the first step in forming a productive relationship based on mutual trust. If you're looking for steps on how to build trust in a team, then exhibiting the traits of a servant leader - listening, effective communication, empathy, etc - is one of the most critical steps to doing so. Beginning to build a level of comfort and long term trust building requires becoming professionally different, changing the pattern of interaction based on the personalities involved.

Further, stepping back and understanding how the other party processes information can create strong bonds and start building trust in the workplace. This also creates healthy environment for good rapport. Practicing effective listening skills in order to gain greater understanding of the other party allows leaders to focus on the person they are working with. This ability to focus will help leaders begin to build a more trusting and deeper relationship. If your organization needs guidance when it comes to connecting with their team, or need to enhance their coaching skills to better communicate, we're here to help! Click here to get started with the unique leadership development tools your organization needs to succeed.

If your organization’s managers and supervisors need to know how to start building trust as a leader, IRI Consultants can help. We're just a click away - let's talk, here!

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About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is Director of IRI's Digital Workplace Solutions Group, and the founder of A Better Leader. Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.