The erosion of trust in the workplace.


Can you think of a place where trust is more critical than in the military, probably not.  Knowing the guy beside you has your back, is going to take care of you and will do what he says he will is the difference between life and death.

Today I am writing about trust, or maybe better put, the lack of trust in the workplace.

When I meet with people and they ask me about my strengths I talk about my ability to build relationships. The first time I was asked how I build great relationships I wasn’t really prepared with a great story so I took some time to think about it. My findings are the inspiration behind this post.

As usual, let’s get the obvious out of the way. I’m human like all of you and there are times when I let myself down and those around me because I don’t follow these rules. I’ll also share how we can overcome this at the end.

The key to great relationships in (and outside) the workplace is trust.

“Thank you Captain Obvious!!” Well, if it’s so obvious why did a recent McKinsey report show trust in the workplace approaching all-time lows? Turn on the news, everyday we are seeing more examples of people eroding trust in the workplace.

Trust is essential to building strong, effective teams. When there is trust people will communicate with more openness and candour. Team members will collaborate and share what’s working and what isn’t in an effort to help each other. Trust is the foundation on which personal and team success is built.

Without trust you’ll see a team of “Lone Wolves”, people who only look out for themselves. There will be less innovation and idea sharing. People will find something that works and keep it to themselves as a “competitive advantage”, even though we are all on the same team.

So how can you build trust within your own team and company? This is a bit of a loaded question! Trust impacts so many different areas of leadership and behaviour so I’m going to focus on 5 things you can do, they will vary in difficulty as you will see below. Let’s get started!

Your actions speak so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying.

We’ve all been there. Someone we work with says they will get something done by a certain time and we walk away and think to ourselves “Ya…right…”. This reaction is based on our past experiences with this person and their inability to keep commitments.

The easiest way to build trust is also the easiest way to destroy it, by not following through on commitments. When you say you will do something, do it. If you say it will be done by a certain time, do it. Be a leader who does what they say they will do and people will begin to think of you in a trusting way.

A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected.

Ever work for someone who only sees the stuff you are doing wrong? Feels great right!? You come to work always looking over your shoulder wondering when they are going to show up and point out all the things you are doing wrong – AWESOME!

Appreciate your people, catch them doing things well and point them out. Sally did a great customer presentation, write her a note thanking her for the effort and preparation she put into it. Jimmy’s funnel is always up to date. Give him a high five and tell him how much you appreciate it. It takes 2 minutes to do this well and it goes a long way to building trust. Next time you see Sally or Jimmy doing something you think they can do better they will be much more open to your feedback because they trust it’s coming from a good place.

Be one person, all the time.

One of the nicest compliments I’ve received is that I’m consistent. I don’t get too high and I don’t get too low but perhaps most importantly I’m not two different people. Whether I’m with my team, executives, customers or the cafeteria lady I’m the same person and I treat them all equally.

My wife and I have 3 kids. Imagine how trust would be destroyed if every time my daughter walked into the room I became a different person. I was more affectionate, I became “Good Time Charlie”, I was more interested in her stories and laughed a little harder at her (sometimes funny) jokes. How would my boys feel? Resentment, you bet. Like they could trust me, not a chance.

Be you, don’t be fake and be consistent.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Stephen Covey said this and it’s now become a well known leadership approach, “Ask v. Tell”.

Every man that is in a relationship with a woman will be able to attest to this. You get home from work and sit down for dinner and she begins to talk about her day. She gets to a point where there was a problem and we jump into Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor fit-it mode. “Well, here is what I would have done” or “You should do or say….”. My wife is awesome at giving facial feedback and when I jump into “fix-it mode” it usually looks something like


When we jump to telling people what to do we are quietly saying “you don’t know what you are doing”. Instead lead with questions, my favourite is “How can I help?”. This is a great way to figure out if someone is just venting or if they are coming to you for advice. “I’d like your advice” isn’t a green light to jump into fix it mode. Ask more questions, “How did this make you feel” – Yes guys, it’s ok to talk about feelings! “What specifically would you like my help with?” Or the one that builds trust, “What do you think your next steps are?”

By asking people questions that can point them in the right direction you are building trust by quietly saying “you got this, let’s see what you think!”

Warning: the way you ask questions is critical here. If you come across as though you are testing the person you are eroding trust. Choose you words and tone very carefully or you may be met with the facial feedback above!

Finally, when you screw up, and you will, own it.

When people move into leadership positions they sometimes forget they are human. We all make mistakes and one of the best ways to build trust is to own your mistakes. Small mistake, tell the person you’re sorry. Big mistake, a more public ownership may be required.

By saying the words “I’m sorry” you are telling someone that you appreciate their feelings and you value them. While the screw up may have eroded some of their trust you have begun to re-build it by saying sorry.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that “I’m sorry” fixes it all, it doesn’t. What rebuilds trust is after you say you’re sorry for missing your 1:1 meeting is not missing the next one. When you say “I’m sorry” 2 or 3 times for the same issue you are really saying “I don’t care about my actions and how they impact you.”. If you are really sorry you will avoid making the same mistake twice.

Build trust with everyone in your life and you’ll see the impact it has on your personal and professional lives!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: