Building trust in the workplace

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Andrea Murad By Andrea Murad, CA Today

21 May 2018

Trust in the workplace has always been important to establish, especially when the pace of work can be at lightning speeds and the consequences for getting it wrong are significant. We examine methods for building this quality in teams.

Sandy Needham CA recalled an interesting experience from his early career: he had a boss called Willy who kept a file called 'Troop Movements', where he wrote down roles and staff.

Willy phoned up one day, asking: "Needham! Is Jenkins there?" Sandy truthfully replied he hadn’t seen him that morning. Willy knew Jenkins was sick - he was testing Sandy to see if he would cover for Jenkins by lying.

In having to manage a large staff base, this direct approach was one method for Willy to figure out whom to trust.

"Building trust within a team is important as it fosters productivity, collaboration and innovation," said Rosemary Haefner, Chief Human Resources Officer at Career Builder. "When teammates trust each other, they’re more likely to open up, share knowledge and take smart risks."

When you gain someone’s trust, you’ll have more latitude at your job and likely be given more responsibility as well.

Trust creates confidence in a team so that they can work together towards the organizational goals. But it isn’t built overnight; it’s those small moments that count, and as the saying goes; trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair.

In the workplace, building trust between managers and employees is paramount. You want to know that someone is honest about projects and tasks, as you would be in return. When you gain someone’s trust, you’ll have more latitude at your job and likely be given more responsibility as well.

Small Gestures and Realistic Promises

Grand gestures can demonstrate trustworthiness, like volunteering to stay late when there’s a looming deadline or helping someone when a presentation’s going south.

But smaller gestures - like keeping your word - show you’re reliable and work to establish trust.

"Meet your deadlines, show up when you say you will and demonstrate respect for your colleague’s time and work,” said Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume. “Be realistic when you make promises, and then deliver on those promises."

Give Trust to Get Trust

Communicate honestly, show transparency and create an open environment where sharing opinions and feedback is encouraged. "When you create rules or assignments, connect them to values or larger company goals," said Rosemary.

"Practice personal accountability and respond to mistakes or disappointments constructively, focusing on creating a solution that works for all members of the team."

By establishing an open environment, you can encourage [staff] to speak out and seek the help they need.

Don’t Test Trust

Rather than test someone, if you suspect a colleague’s been dishonest, confront them and ask what else may be at play - they could be overworked or struggling with work.

"By establishing an open environment, you can encourage them to speak out and seek the help they need," said Rosemary.

Fake it ‘til you make it?

Confidence is key when taking on new responsibilities, because if you’re not confident in your abilities, your team may not be either.

"It’s okay to admit you don’t know the answer sometimes," said Amanda. "The key is to acknowledge when you don’t have the answer, and then take steps to find the answer and communicate it to the rest of the team."

If you find that you’re not in the right position, then consider taking a step back to think about your career. "Your team will pick up on your lack of skills immediately, and it will be an uphill battle to win back their respect," said Rosemary.

Trust takes years to build, and seconds to break.

Teams don’t win all the time

Telling your team they’re winning when they really aren’t won’t change the outcome. "If your team swings and misses on a project, let them know honestly - but concentrate on being resolution-focused," said Rosemary.

Talk to colleagues to identify where the team got off track and any shortcomings, and then ask what they would change for next time. "Your team will appreciate your candid transparency and accountability, and will work hard to nail it next time," she said.

That little white lie…

Most people have bent the truth from time to time, but in general, lying calls integrity into question. "Getting caught in a lie can do irreparable damage to your professional reputation and destroy the trust you’ve developed with your colleagues," said Amanda.

If you do lie though, understand why you’re doing so - is it because your culture doesn’t accept mistakes or you’re sparing someone’s feelings, for example.

"If your reasons are applaudable, sometimes a white lie is okay," said Rosemary. "But if you’re lying to cover up a serious mistake or get out of work, think twice - trust takes years to build, and seconds to break."

About the author

Andrea Murad is a New York–based writer. Having worked on both Wall Street and Main Street, she now pursues her passion for words. She covers business and finance, and her work can be found on BBC Capital, Consumers Digest,, Global Finance and


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