How to build trust in the workplace (and why it’s essential)

13 March 2023 Sharyn Waterworth

How To Build Trust In The Workplace (And Why It’s Essential)

At work, trust is fundamental to employee success, manager performance and a leader's effectiveness. Developing a culture of trust begins at the top, but everyone has a role to play in building trusting relationships with their colleagues.

While trust is an important ingredient in building successful careers (no matter what stage you’re at) and companies, according to a report from Achievers, only 1 in 5 HR leaders believe employees deeply trust their company leaders.

This is alarming because, at high-trust companies, workers experience 74% less stress, 50% more productivity and 40% less burnout.

If building trust isn’t high up on your to-do list, it might be time for a priority reshuffle so you can start reaping the rewards - whether you’re part of the team, overseeing a team or part of senior leadership.

Happily, there are proven and effective ways to start building trust in your workplace today. Keep reading to find out how. But first, let’s dive further into why trust is so important and what it means exactly.

What is trust in the workplace?

In the workplace, trust plays an integral role in how you communicate and coordinate. Even your productivity and how positively you feel towards your job are affected by it.

There are two different types of trust in the workplace. The practical kind is what we tend to think about in relation to work; it's about being reliable and competent.

The second type is emotional trust. This is all about building a bond through listening, networking, providing support and being respectful.

Emotional trust takes emotional intelligence (a skill many successful leaders have) and is a lot more complex than cultivating practical trust — which is based on physical factors.

In the context of the workplace, we can define trust as:

  • Feeling confident in the abilities of your coworkers

  • Feeling safe, included and comfortable at work

  • Being able to predict a coworker or manager’s behaviour

  • Knowing you can rely on your team to meet a deadline

  • Knowing your company and manager care about you

  • Feeling secure in your job

  • Giving your employees independence and flexibility

Why is trust in the workplace important?

Trust is something we inherently feel (or don’t feel) towards others. There are some of us who are prone to trusting more freely, while others feel that trustworthiness must first be demonstrated.

Either way, when trust breaks down and your credibility slips, it can be difficult to rebuild. Employees working at a company with low trust don’t:

  • Feel comfortable sharing their thoughts

  • Aren’t as willing to help one another out

  • Push the envelope with new ideas

  • Communicate effectively with their coworkers

All of these elements combined make for a stressful workplace filled with employees who aren’t operating at their full potential.

Cultivating a culture of honesty, respect and psychological safety results in employees who are proud of their work, feel emotionally connected to their company and are more secure in their jobs.

Building trust in the workplace

  1. Practice honesty & transparency

Sometimes, sugar-coating or withholding information can save you from the feeling of discomfort. We’ve all been in a situation where being honest felt confrontational.

However, honesty delivered with sensitivity and genuine care is far better than a lie delivered with a smile. Your news may not always be happy, but you’ve shown respect by telling the truth — something the recipient will appreciate and remember.

You never want someone to find out important news through someone else — it can create distance, suspicion and hurt feelings. Always be direct and transparent so no one feels blindsided or let down.

  1. Follow through with commitments

Whether it’s arriving at work on time, responding to emails in a timely manner or delivering a project when you said you would, following through on your commitments demonstrates reliability.

You do what you say you will, and your employees and coworkers will grow to trust you at your word.

  1. Show vulnerability

In our personal relationships, we feel closer to our significant other when we share our feelings. The same is true for our professional relationships.

Being vulnerable builds trust because you’re taking the first step and saying “I trust you with this knowledge and I feel safe telling you”. Without showing some vulnerability, our relationships at work can feel surface-level and expendable.

Being vulnerable also helps to humanise yourself. Talking about your values or discussing your fears helps your co-workers, or employees, see you as a three-dimensional person to whom they can relate.

  1. Admit when you make a mistake

We all make mistakes, but not all of us will admit to them. We’re worried our reputation will be tarnished or people won’t think we’re capable, when, actually, the best thing you can do to bolster confidence in your abilities is to admit your faults.

Recognising and owning our mistakes shows we’re self-aware, not above reproach and dedicated to growth. Failure isn’t character-ending but refusing to admit fault, or, worse, pushing the blame onto others, is.

Saying “I made a mistake but I’m going to do this differently next time” is courageous, admirable and much more likely to win you fans.

  1. Implement feedback

Actions speak louder than words, and building trust is all about putting words into action. If you have asked for or received feedback, whether it be:

  • From your coworkers on a project;

  • From your manager on a yearly performance review;

  • Or from a survey you’ve sent to your employees

Make a plan to demonstrate observable changes and show your coworkers/employees/manager that you value their input and take their thoughts and opinions seriously.

  1. Help your team

We all have work to be doing, which makes your willingness to go out of your way to help someone all the more meaningful. Helping, without the expectation of reciprocation, or with an agenda in mind, makes you a valuable and trustworthy addition to your workplace.

If you notice a coworker is struggling with something, offer to help them out. And if you’re a manager, make sure you don’t provide help only reactively, but proactively — what could you be doing to help your team out more?

  1. Communicate effectively

To build trust, you need to actively and effectively communicate with those around you. By keeping people updated, being proactive with your problem-solving, and showing interest in their lives, you establish trust.

Asking how everyone's weekend was on a Monday, or checking in midweek with your coworkers to find out how they're doing with their workload can do wonders for building relationships over time. It’s these small, but consistent moments of outreach that support more productive relationships.

In-person, be mindful of your body language, tone and inflection. What’s your posture like? Are you encouraging an open and honest environment where people are free to share?

55% of communication occurs nonverbally, while 38% takes place verbally, so being aware of how you may be coming across is important.

  1. Actively listen and demonstrate interest

Another aspect of good communication is listening. During a conversation, we can often get caught up in waiting for a pause so we can interject or respond. Make sure you’re giving others a chance to speak and express themselves.

Genuinely take in the information they’re telling you. Listening also demonstrates you’re interested in learning more about the speaker.

Have you ever been annoyed because someone was constantly talking over the top of you? How about when you present an idea during a meeting, only to have someone else present the same idea differently five minutes later? It makes you feel irritated and unheard.

The best way to show people you care about them is by doing something simple, but oddly difficult: genuinely listening to understand — not to respond.

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