The Secrets to Developing Trusting Relationships in the Workplace

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Trust forms the foundation for effective communication, employee retention, employee motivation and contribution of discretionary energy—the extra effort that people voluntarily invest in work. When trust exists in an organization or in a relationship, all aspects of the relationships involved become easier.

Healthy organizations are built upon the constructs of trust, leadership example, and the culture built by the leaders.

The Three Constructs of Trust

There are many definitions of trust. One of the more definitive was written by Dr. Duane C. Tway, Jr. in his 1993 dissertation, A Construct of Trust:

"There exists today, no practical construct of trust that allows us to design and implement organizational interventions to significantly increase trust levels between people. We all think we know what trust is from our own experience, but we don't know much about how to improve it. Why? I believe it is because we have been taught to look at trust as if it were a single entity."

In Tway's definition of trust, he states the following:

  • The capacity for trusting means that your total life experiences have developed your current capacity and willingness to risk trusting others
  • The perception of competence is made up of your perception of your ability and the ability of others with whom you work to perform competently
  • The perception of intentions, as defined by Tway, is your perception that the actions, words, direction, mission, or decisions are motivated by mutually-serving rather than self-serving motives

Trust Is Critical in a Healthy Organization

How important is building a trusting work environment? Tway states,

"Aristotle (384-322 BC), writing in the Rhetoric, suggested that Ethos, the Trust of a speaker by the listener, was based on the listener's perception of three characteristics of the speaker...Aristotle believed these three characteristics to be the intelligence of the speaker (correctness of opinions, or competence), the character of the speaker (reliability - a competence factor, and honesty - a measure of intentions), and the goodwill of the speaker (favorable intentions towards the listener)."

This hasn't changed much to this day. Additional research by Tway and others show that trust is the basis for much of the positive environment you want to create in your workplace. Trust is the necessary precursor for:

  • feeling able to rely on a person
  • cooperating with and experiencing teamwork with a group
  • taking thoughtful risks
  • experiencing believable communication

The best way to maintain a trusting work environment is to not break the trust you have established in the first place. The integrity of the leadership of the organization is critical. Many leaders fail to realize that their behavior, at work or not, will be scrutinized by their employees. Failure for leaders to be held accountable for actions that would get an employee in trouble will cause serious trust issues within a workforce.

The Critical Role of the Leader

Trust within an organization, similar to between people, has to be earned by doing and communicating. Leadership plays a large role in initiating the necessary culture for fostering trust.

The leadership of an organization has the responsibility to establish the first trusting relationship with their employees. The assumption that since an employee works for a manager, therefore should trust that manager is an incorrect one that many leaders make when first entering a leadership role.

Providing information about the rationale, background, and thought processes behind decisions is another important aspect of maintaining trust. If employees understand decision making criteria and processes, they are more apt to trust in their leaderships decisions.

A manager must be able to mold relationships with those that work for them. Their skill in developing relationships that reduce or eliminate distrust will have a positive impact on employee satisfaction and turnover.