How to Build Trust at Work

10 Specific Steps You'll Want to Take to Build and Maintain Trust

Three diverse, attractive employees in a business casual meeting
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Do you want to know how to build trust in your organization? You cannot always control the trust you experience in your larger organization, but you can act in ways that promote trust within your immediate work environment. This environment can include your department, your work team or unit, or your coworkers in cubicle land.

Building trust in a smaller unit where you have some control helps to build trust in your larger organization. People who trust each other's coworkers tend to extend their trust to the larger organization as well. This, in turn, draws forth trust from others.

Destroying trust and rebuilding trust allow you to look at what doesn't work to build a trusting work environment. These are places that you don't need to go.

Build trust instead from the beginning of your relationship with a new employee. The following are ways to create and preserve trusting relationships in a trust promoting work environment.

How to Build Trust

  • Hire and promote people, who are capable of forming positive, trusting interpersonal relationships with people who report to them, to supervisory positions. The supervisor's relationship with reporting employees is the fundamental building block of trust.
  • Develop the skills of all employees, and especially those of current supervisors and people desiring promotion, in interpersonal relationship building and effective interpersonal skills.
  • Keep staff members truthfully informed. Provide as much information as you can comfortably divulge as soon as possible in any situation.
  • Expect supervisors to act with integrity and keep commitments. If you cannot keep a commitment, explain what is happening in the situation without delay. Current behavior and actions are perceived by employees as the basis for predicting future behavior. Supervisors who act as if they are worthy of trust will more likely be followed with fewer complaints.
  • Confront hard issues in a timely fashion. If an employee has excessive absences or spends work time wandering around, it is important to confront the employee about these issues. Other employees will watch and trust you more.
  • Protect the interest of all employees in a workgroup. Do not talk about absent employees, nor allow others to place blame, call names, or point fingers. Employees learn to trust when they know that their names are not being taken in vain.
  • Display competence in supervisory and other work tasks. Know what you are talking about, and if you don’t know—admit it. Nothing builds trust more effectively than a manager saying that he doesn't know and will find out so that everyone is informed. The worst reaction occurs when a manager pretends to know and offers faulty information. Employees forgive a lack of knowledge—they never forgive a liar. Trust that this is true.
  • Listen with respect and full attention. Exhibit empathy and sensitivity to the needs of staff members. Trust grows out of the belief that you understand and can relate.
  • Take thoughtful risks to improve service and products for the customer. When you demonstrate that risk-taking is promoted, you demonstrate that employees may do the same—especially if there are no consequences when a thoughtfully considered risk goes awry. When consequences for risk-taking don't occur, trust is cemented.
  • If you are a supervisor or a team member, set high expectations and act as if you believe staff members are capable of living up to them. This trust and support will draw forth your employees' best efforts and their trust in return.

    The Human Resources professional has a special role in promoting trust. So do line managers. You coach managers and supervisors about all of the appropriate roles described above in building trust relationships.

    You also influence the power differentials within the organization by developing and publishing supportive, protective, honorable policies. You are influential in building appropriate social norms among people who are doing different jobs in your organization.

    Engage in trust building and team building activities only when there is a sincere desire in your organization to create a trusting, empowering, team-oriented work environment. Engaging in these activities for any but honorable reasons is a travesty and a sham.

    People will know the difference, or they will find out, and then, they will never trust you. This will  have an impact on everything that you want to accomplish in your workplace.

    Build a Trust Relationship Over Time

    Trust is built and maintained by many small actions over time. Marsha Sinetar, the author, said, “Trust is not a matter of technique, but of character; we are trusted because of our way of being, not because of our polished exteriors or our expertly crafted communications.”

    You can build trusting relationships and a culture of trust in your workplace. You build trust through all of your actions and every interaction you have with coworkers and employees. You build trust one step at a time. Trust is fragile but strengthens over time with—you guessed it—more trust. Prove yourself and your organization worthy.

    References About Trust Relationships

    • Dirks, Kurt T., Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 85(6), Dec. 2000. pp. 1004-1012.
    • Meyer, R.C., Davis, J. H., and Schoorman, F. S., Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 1995.
    • Tway, Duane C., A Construct of Trust, Dissertation, 1993.
    • Tway, Duane C., Unpublished Paper, Leadership, and Trust: An Imperative for the Transition Decade and Beyond, 1995.

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