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How To Build Trust

Trust could be at times an elusive concept. Learn how to build trust by mastering the seven behaviors that constitute trust.

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Without trust it would be impossible to have friends, cohesive families, and strong teams who foster innovation and execute through collaboration. Our survival as a species relies on trusting, at a minimum, the members of our own tribe.

Trust could be at times an elusive concept. We all know when we trust or distrust someone. Where we struggle is in explaining how we concluded that there is no longer trust in the relationship.

Charles Feltman, author of ‘The Thin Book of Trust’, defines trust as choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions. He describes distrust as deciding that what is important to me is not safe with this person in this situation (or any situation). Ouch! His definition of distrust hit a nerve. I am not sure how I would react if someone told me he or she does not feel safe with me.

Now we have a definition and there is clarity around what trust is. I love the fact that trust is a choice, which means that to be trustworthy we must work at it every day.

We are all familiar with the adage of it takes a lifetime to create trust and a minute or less to destroy it. My visual representation of trust is like a delicate rock crystal vase. It is unique and very delicate. I have one vase for each person who trusts me unconditionally. Each one is guarded and protected against my own clumsiness. I do not want to break or irretrievably damage them.

Still, the definition of trust does not tell us what being trustworthy looks like. If we were to tell someone that what is important to us is not safe with them, we are directly criticizing the person (and not his/her behavior), which could be detrimental.

Brene Brown identified seven behaviors associated with being trustworthy. I have used the BRAVING inventory with both work and personal relationships. So far, it is the best and most exact list of practices related to trust that I have come across.

Here are the seven elements of trust where I combine the definition from Brene Brown and my own two cents.

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.” – Unknown

Boundaries

Boundary is something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent. The way this applies to trust is that we respect each other’s boundaries and when we are not clear, we ask. We are also willing to say no.

This behavior could be challenging at work and in truly close relationships for a couple of reasons:

  1. We are afraid that our boundaries would be judged as being too strict or too lenient.
  2. We do not know how to say no, and our boundaries are crossed over and over.

I struggle with both reasons especially the second one. And this is part of what I am currently learning: it is fine to say ‘no’, ‘not now’, or ‘not yet’.

I think part of the fear of setting boundaries and saying ‘no’ is that we may be coming from a scarcity mindset instead of from an abundant one. We are afraid of missing out if we put limitations.

The reality is that the clearer we are with what is acceptable and what is not, the better off we are with people. Most people do not want to hurt us or make us feel bad. I started to see it as me helping them understand how we can better work, connect and interact together.

And what is acceptable today may not be acceptable tomorrow. Our boundaries are fluid with time and wisdom, so it is important to let the people close to us know of the changes.

“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.” – Brene Brown

Reliability

We do what we said we would do. We do not want to over promise and under deliver considering our capabilities, existing commitments, and priorities. I see this one linked to boundaries as well especially when it comes to saying ‘no’ or ‘not now’.

Many people, I included, tend to take in a lot more than what is humanly possible (especially when we consider home, work, community, etc.), and by the time we realize we need help it may be too late to ask for it productively.

On the flip side, new people or team managers tend to ‘forget’ that they are not required to do everything themselves personally so are cautious when accepting new projects or setting new goals. It took me a while for this to sink in: I now had the power of X number of people on my team so we could deliver much more.

“Consistency is the true foundation of trust. Either keep your promises or do not make them.” – Unknown

Accountability

This is the behavior in which we own our mistakes, apologize, and make amends.

I have seen both extremes of this element. On one hand, there is a group of people who are never at fault. There is always someone else to blame or to point to, even if that person is someone on their team. On the other hand, I see people constantly apologizing and taking accountability even for minor events or when they or their team were not even involved.

There is an art and science to this behavior. As a rule of thumb, when someone on our team makes a mistake, we, as the head of that team, are accountable in front of our boss and others. Of course, behind closed doors we want to understand what happened, how to avoid it in the future, etc.

At the same time, we are also human and not all mistakes are created equally. If we over apologize for the small things, we lose credibility and gravitas. If you forgot to add the page numbers to the presentation, you could say ‘thank you for letting me know, I will add them right away.’

“Leaders inspire accountability through their ability to accept responsibility before they place blame.” – Unknown

Vault

We do not share information or experiences that are not ours to share. We want people to know that their confidences are kept and that we are not sharing information about other people that should be confidential.

I witnessed this firsthand in my last position. My manager at the time had no filter and he would share information with me about my peers. He did it in an attempt to connect with me without being aware that it backfired. The result was that I did not tell him anything I did not want my colleagues to know. And when I had to update him on topics related to people on my team, I would make it clear that this was confidential and not to be shared further.

The subject of people is a fascinating one so invariably we love talking about people. The higher we are in an organization, the more people will talk about us. Some colleagues seek to connect with us by gossiping to befriend us by providing what they think is valuable information.

When people came to me with gossip, I would not show interest in what they were saying. Or I would disarm the messenger with ‘I think she was trying her best. What would you have done differently?’ Problem solved!

There are topics that people will inevitably want to discuss at work such as changes in management, people leaving, etc. I would ask my team to keep the information to themselves for a specific timeframe (a day, a few hours, etc.) because each manager is communicating to their teams. It is only fair that people receive the information from their leaders directly. Once the ‘curfew’ is over I let them know that they have free range to talk to others.

“Trust has to be earned and should come only after the passage of time.” – Unknown

Integrity

We choose courage over comfort. We choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And we choose to practice our values rather than only talking about them.

This may be one of the most difficult behaviors to keep. In many cases there is a disconnect between what we say is important to us vs. what we actually do day in and day out.

As we grow in the organization the more important this behavior is as we lead by example. People around us observe what we do and what we do not do.

Showing integrity immediately gives us credibility and we motivate people to do the same. The thought is ‘if my leader took the hard path instead of the easy way out, it would look really bad if I do not do the same.’ Or ‘… I can do it too.’

When you think about what values are important to you, look at your calendar, to-do list, and notes. If you say that an important value for you is ‘fitness’, for example, and you cannot remember the last time you went to the gym or exercised, then maybe it is not as important as you want it to be. On the other hand, if you have a daily gratitude practice, then gratitude is an important value to you.

“Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.” – Oprah Winfrey

Nonjudgment

I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel and ask each other for help without judgment.

This is one of the most difficult behaviors for me to model. I consider myself self-sufficient so asking someone for help is not something that comes automatically. Oddly enough, not asking for help was cited as a common element of distrust at work. Leaders felt they could not delegate important projects to people who did not ask for help because they would not be able to provide timely support when people struggled.

After I learned this, I set a goal for myself to ask for help. I started small (really small) and I am still gradually building on this behavior. Of course, we want to navigate the fine balance between being independent (I can figure it out via my network, research, etc.) and being stuck (I raise my hand and ask for help timely).  And the beauty is that most people love helping others. It makes them feel useful and that they add value.

“Better to trust the person who is frequently in error than the one who is never in doubt.” – Unknown

Generosity

We extend the most generous interpretations possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others. This is assuming positive intent, which is thinking that the other person is doing the best they can with what they know.

I like to think about children when I consider this behavior. When kids are learning to write, for example, we encourage them, and we celebrate their first written words. And between you and me, their writing is illegible, ugly, and full of spelling mistakes. We know that they are doing the best they can with what they know. Hey, we even give praise and encouragement when an adult is learning to read and write.

People are doing the best they can with what they know. I remind myself of this every day with every interaction. I have been fortunate to learn certain things during my long career in the financial industry and as a professional coach. And there are many more things I do not currently know or am still learning. So, what is obvious to me, may not be obvious at all to the other person (or vice versa) because most likely they have not been exposed to it.

“Trust is the highest form of human motivation. It brings out the very best in people.” – Stephen Covey

Which of these seven behaviors do you show most consistently? Which ones are you working on? Please, let us know in the comments. You can write in English, Spanish, Portuguese or French.

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My mission is to help women transform their inner voice from critic to champion, so they can confidently realize and fulfill their potential achieving what they want most for themselves, their families, communities, organizations, and teams.

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