Ten Ways to Build Trust

Ten ways to build trust in your personal and work relationships.

1. Keep it confidential
2. Keep your promises and follow through with commitments
3. Realize that trust is up to you
4. Trust people who are different from you
5. Tell the truth
6. Communicate openly and honestly
7. Forgive and move on
8. Be a good listener
9. Work at building trust when there is a problem
10. Learn to recognize whom to trust

Everything from a good relationship with a customer to a good marriage is built on trust. Trust affects how we see the world, how safe we feel, and how we approach new people and situations. It affects whether we’re willing to go the extra mile for a friend, relative, co-worker, or even someone we’ve never met but with whom we do business.

When trust levels are high, you feel relaxed and accepted; you can be yourself. When trust levels are low, you feel uncomfortable and on the defensive; you can’t be yourself. Co-workers with high levels of trust enjoy working and spending time together and tend to be more productive.

How can you build trust in your personal and work relationships? Below are ten tips.

1. Keep it confidential
You build strong relationships by being a trustworthy listener.

When you are working with a group or committee, don’t share sensitive committee work outside the group.
When a friend, a relative, or a co-worker confides in you or shares personal information, don’t share it with others.
Respect the confidence your children place in you. Don’t discuss your child’s personal relationships or secrets with your friends.

2. Keep your promises and follow through with commitments
When you keep your promises and follow through with commitments, you show people that you care about them, that you’re reliable, and that you can be counted on in the future.

Always try to do what you say you will do, even for the small things.
If you promise your child you’ll be home by 5 o’clock to help with a project, keep your promise.
If you tell a friend you’ll be there for her child’s baseball game, show up.
If you tell your co-worker you’ll be at a meeting, arrive on time and be prepared.
If you can’t make a deadline, explain why as soon as you can and renegotiate the deadline if possible.

3. Realize that trust is up to you
You are responsible for how much — or how little — people trust you. Think about your relationships with others and about your actions. Are you a trustworthy and honest co-worker and friend? When you have a breakdown in communication with someone, do you try to get beyond the misunderstanding?

Accept responsibility for building trust in new relationships.
Collaborate with co-workers and others.
Offer to help a colleague who seems overloaded.
If a friend, a relative, or a co-worker is ill or going through a difficult time, offer to help with errands or other jobs.
If a breakdown in trust occurs between you and a co-worker who is not open to discussing the problem, try to identify a likely intermediary to help you talk.
If mutual friends, family members, or co-workers have had a breakdown in trust or communication, offer to help reopen the channels of communication.
Keep in mind that some people aren’t trusting by nature; they may be overly suspicious or fearful. It’s not realistic to think that everyone will trust you.

4. Trust people who are different from you
It’s easier to establish trust with people who are more like you than it is to establish it with those who are quite different from you. In an increasingly diverse and changing workplace and world, it’s important to be able to trust people outside your circle.

Be open to new ideas and beliefs, regardless of where they come from. The more open you are, the more trusting your relationships will be.
Respect the fact that others may not always share your opinions.
Show a genuine interest in other people. Ask non-intrusive questions about the other person’s life, culture, beliefs, and background. Look for common interests.
Try to use inclusive language that doesn’t assume that everyone is heterosexual or married, or from the same racial or ethnic background.

5. Tell the truth
Tell the truth and you’ll surround yourself with trusting — and trusted — co-workers and friends.

Tell the truth on your résumé.
Admit when you are wrong. Don’t cover up a mistake.
Don’t embellish your role at work or lead people to believe you have more responsibility or authority at work than you do.
Give credit to the people who deserve it. Never take credit for someone else’s work.
Talk with your children about the importance of being honest.

6. Communicate openly and honestly
To build trust in groups or with individuals, you must be willing to communicate openly and freely and to share your ideas, thoughts, and concerns. When you withhold important information, for example, people question your motives and intentions: “What isn’t he telling me?” When you share information openly and honestly, people trust that your intentions are good.

When you are in a group discussion, don’t dominate the conversation. You want people to feel they can share information. Give everyone an opportunity to talk.
Be careful with email. Be cautious about how you communicate with associates, clients, and co-workers. Sometimes email notes or memos can sound curt or too casual. Review your email messages before sending them to make sure the tone is what you intended. If you’re unsure, pick up the phone or go see the person.
Be careful about what you post on social-networking and other sites. Be aware that associates, clients, and co-workers may see or hear about anything you post on a networking or other website. Security breaches can occur even on password-protected sites. Never post something that you wouldn’t want an associate, a client, or a co-worker to see. Send consistent on- and offline messages about who you are. This will help to show that you are good for your word.
Consistent messages about who you are means that people can depend on your reactions. Everyone has bad days, but avoid taking it out on others. They may remember your occasional tirade or temper tantrum long after you’ve put it behind you.
When you have a problem with someone’s behavior, provide constructive feedback in private, rather than in front of others. Sometimes it seems easier to sulk or strike back than to talk, but the payoff from a successful conversation is likely to be much higher. If your co-worker doesn’t want to talk, the next best thing is to show no hard feelings and to try to rebuild a strong working relationship through positive behavior yourself. Avoid speaking against the person to others. Negativity doesn’t build trust.
When you’re talking about difficult issues, avoid words and behavior that can trigger a conflict or put people on the defensive. Avoid phrases like “You always . . .”, “You never . . .”, “It’s your fault,” and “Why didn’t you . . .” Name-calling and negative labels create mistrust. Ignoring questions, acting like the expert, pointing a finger, lecturing, yelling, and humiliating others all create mistrust.
Be aware of the tone of your voice and your body language. Sometimes it’s not the words you use but how they are expressed that creates mistrust.

7. Forgive and move on
To build trusting relationships, you must be able to forgive and move on.

Try to let go of old arguments, resentments, and issues from the past.
Accept the other person’s apology and don’t dwell on how it was offered.
Don’t rehash what happened in the past.
Remember times in your life when you needed or wanted forgiveness. Face your own mistakes and forgive yourself. It will become easier to forgive another person when you can admit your own wrongs and forgive yourself. Similarly, apologize to others who were adversely affected by your mistake.

8. Be a good listener
Listening well is one of the best ways to show, give, and rebuild trust.

When you are talking with someone face to face, don’t answer the phone, check email, or sort the papers on your desk.
If someone wants to talk and you don’t have the time because you’re busy with something else, be honest and say that. Instead of listening and being distracted, it’s better to say, “I want to talk with you, but I don’t have the time right now to give this my full attention. Could we arrange a time to talk later?”
Be a patient listener. Not everyone thinks or speaks as fast as you do. Avoid completing people’s sentences or putting words into their mouths.
Make time to talk one-on-one with your spouse or partner.

9. Work at building trust when there is a problem
When there are setbacks or disappointments at work or in personal relationships, the only way to regain lost trust is to work at it.

Talk with the person who let you down. If you feel angry, disappointed, betrayed, or taken advantage of, talk about it.
Don’t wait. The longer you wait to talk about a problem, the bigger the misunderstanding becomes.
Find small ways to trust the person again. When you see smaller commitments being met over time, it’s easier to trust that the larger ones will be met, too.
Consider professional counseling to work through the tough issues of rebuilding trust.
Be realistic and know that it can take a long time to rebuild trust.

10. Learn to recognize whom to trust
The unfortunate fact is that not everyone can be trusted. It can be harmful to trust too much, just as it can be harmful not to trust enough. It’s not a good idea to trust everyone you meet or to share personal information about yourself too freely.

Use your instincts, good judgment, and interactions with people to determine whether or not someone can be trusted. If you feel uncomfortable, take time to figure out why you feel this way. Check out the person’s story or background if possible. While first impressions sometimes turn out to be wrong, they can still send valuable signals to be careful.

Watch for signs that someone may not be trustworthy. These may include: avoiding eye contact, stumbling over words, excessive fidgeting, making conflicting statements or outlandish promises, or purposely speaking so that you cannot hear. (Be aware that there may be other reasons for some of this behavior, such as cultural differences or disabilities.) At the same time, the least trustworthy people can be con artists: charming, smooth talkers who put you at ease right away; you need time to tell.

If something feels wrong, hold off trusting the person until you feel comfortable doing so. Distrust and suspicion are healthy reactions under certain circumstances.
Choose the people you trust. Be alert to any stranger who tries to strike up a sudden friendship in person, online, or over the phone. The person may use your first name or engage in small talk as part of his pitch. Don’t automatically judge a stranger by his voice or good manners.

Written with the help of Lynne Gaines, B.A. and Advanced Human Resources Certificate, Boston College Graduate School of Management/Bentley College. Ms. Gaines is a human resources manager in the Boston area. She has written widely about employment issues and is the former editor of The Levinson Letter for middle managers. Her HR experience spans 25 years in financial services, higher education, and publishing.

© 2003, 2011 Ceridian Corporation. All rights reserved.


One response to “Ten Ways to Build Trust

  1. Pingback: Build Trusting Relationships - Tips on How to Build Trust with your Customers & Suppliers in Order to Succeed in Business

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