The Simple Truths of Building Trust

I’ve been involved in a number of conversations recently, both at work and in my personal life, that all circle back to trust. This topic comes up for a number of reasons. How does this person build trust with coworkers and direct reports? Why don’t we trust each other? What can rebuild the trust that was broken? As I think about this topic and how it plays out in my own life and with the people I trust most, several behaviors pop up as the most critical.

People want to be heard. Whether it is to express frustration or just talk about how things are going, people want to feel comfortable to share and talk. The only way for people to get comfortable is for you to listen. Not listening for the chance to talk or to help or to solve their problem. Just to listen and make clear you understand. Not listening for the chance to talk or to help or to solve their problem. Just to listen and make clear you understand.

Be willing to apologize
Lots of people think they apologize but they never really do. They say things like: “I didn’t mean for that to hurt your feelings” and “that wasn’t what I was trying to say”. While these express a regret for the outcome, they stop short of actually being an apology. Truly saying I’m sorry requires acknowledgment that you screwed up, self-awareness to see the impact your actions had and confidence to be vulnerable with someone else.Truly saying I’m sorry can begin to fix relationships and rebuild trust.

Have difficult conversations
No one likes to have difficult conversations. We all get anxious and fear the worst. But a few years ago I went through some challenging personal times where difficult conversations had to happen. What I learned through that experience was that they get easier. You still dread them but you have a more realistic view that they likely will go better than you expect. Also, I found that the more times I was willing to have a difficult conversation with someone, whether it is work related or personal, the more comfortable I became in articulating the message I intended while fighting the anxiety. They are no more fun than they were before, but like anything else, practice has made it better.

Lose the humor
People often see humor as a way to warm someone up and make someone else like them. But humor doesn’t work like that. We have all made the mistake of a sarcastic joke or something we think is funny that doesn’t go over well because we don’t know someone well enough. We misjudge the relationship, or someone’s sense of humor, assuming they will laugh and they will help us get to know each other. It ends up being a pretty unpredictable thing. While trying to build trust with someone or even more, when trying to rebuild a fractured relationship, an effort at humor usually does more harm than good.

Extend trust
In most relationships, work and personal, there is far more to be gained by extending trust to others first, rather than waiting for them to prove themselves to trust someone. If you are waiting, they may never do enough. But the vast majority of people are well meaning and good, so trusting first doesn’t risk that much in the long run. Particularly in work settings, with supervisor and employee relationships, a lot more work gets done when you trust first, until someone proves unworthy.

Say thank you
This may sound a bit out there but hear me out. Showing appreciation for someone,the work they do or something nice your partner does for you, doesn’t take much effort…but it does take awareness. People love to be genuinely appreciated and when they know that you appreciate them, they are much more likely to trust you.

Clarify your intent
I used to work for a guy that taught me a lot about building relationships, but the one that sticks with me the most was how he approached clarity. Every time he asked me a question he followed it up with, “and the reason I’m asking the question is”…and proceeded to explain why he needed what he was asking for. We often start a question to someone after putting a lot of thought into what we need to know, but forget that the other person may be caught of guard, or certainly hasn’t been thinking about the topic. His clarification always dropped my defenses and gave me an understanding of where he was headed. I’ve taken this on as my own and have seen it work both personally and professionally.

We often overthink our relationships, and think there are perfect solutions with how to build trust or patch a relationship that has been damaged. It isn’t that the answers are always easy, but they certainly aren’t complicated.

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