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Trust in Practice

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Most of us want to work in an environment where trust is paramount and underpins business and team interactions. As leaders or business owners we need strong relationships with our employees and external stakeholders built on a solid foundation trust.

What are some of the things we can actively and proactively do then to build trust and trusting relationships? Here are a few suggestions:

Suggestion 1:

Be self-aware and acknowledge that trust can always be worked on and that you may be blind to the issue. In fact, 72% of us managers and leaders believe that at we are trusted by our teams. Yet only 36% of our employees actually agree with that.[1] Increasingly employees are starting to doubt whether as leaders we are being transparent in our decisions and actions.

Suggestion 2:

Start building a culture and norms for thoughtful disagreements. Tensions and mistrust breed when we are not straightforward with one another or sugar coat our communication. Some basic question you can ask your team or the people you interact with are “in our interactions should I tell you what I really think or not? And if so, how do you want us to go about creating that environment of openness, transparency and honesty?”

Of course, as a leader you will need to encourage your team do to the same with you. Let people know that it is ok to disagree with you and that you want to hear their inputs, ideas and suggestions especially as they may have information that you don’t have or they may be taking different elements into consideration.

Ray Dalio, founder of one of the world largest investment firms Bridgewater and author of New York Times #1 best-seller Life & Work, found out the hard way that meaningful work and meaningful relationships with the people we work with are based on trust, complete openness and not agreeability. This is what led him to implement an approach of radical transparency within his organization.

Suggestion 3:

Let people know where you stand you and why. Let people know your reasoning. If your team knows how you make decisions it will leave no room for rumors, speculation, gossip and doubt. And if you don’t know something or need more time to think about a decision be open about that.  There is nothing wrong with saying “listen guys I need one more day to get more information before I can make a decision” or “these are the 3 things I put into consideration when making my decision”.

Suggestion 4:

Avoid wishy washy language or language veiled in layers of meta talk. What do statements such as “I will try” or “I will do my best” truly mean? What do you really expect when you say to someone “could you try to do xyz?” Or “would you mind looking into a and b?”

What does “trying to do something” or “looking into something” actually mean?

This kind of soft language may seem polite and pleasant, but it can leave people wondering where they stand and what has been agreed.

There is a lack of a clear sense of commitment, decision and agreement in those statements. Be clear on what people can expect from you and what you expect from your team.

Instead of “would you mind looking into a”

make a clear request

“I ask you to have a look at a and give me your top 3 suggestions by Monday”.

Instead of “I will try to think about xyz”

be clear on what you can deliver and try

“I need two days to think about this. I will get back to you by Thu with my suggestions”.

Of course, after that there can always be room for a discussion to establish what is feasible in a specific time frame and which elements may need to be prioritized. But start of by being clear on what you need or what you can commit to doing. For more around accountability you may want to check out Fred Kofman and even take his Linked Learning course on accountability.

Remember as a leader people want to be inspired by your vision, ambition and direction. They want you to reveal you thinking around important issues that may affect your organization or business. And they want you to admit your mistakes when you are wrong i.e. lead by example, practice what you preach, walk your talk.

We hope you found these article series useful in terms of thinking about trust and building trusting work environments for more positive business outcomes.

If you would like to share your tips, thoughts and suggestion on trust please drop them in the comment section and lets generate dialogue.


[1] The Middle Manager Lifeline. Trust and communication in the heart of your organization, Chartered Management Institute, Sep, 2016.

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