increasing trust

Roughly half of all employees don’t trust their leader. That statistic is rather shocking when we consider trust is the foundational piece of any working relationship.

Distrust leads to expensive and sometimes terminal problems. A recent Harvard Business Review poll revealed that the terms most used to describe an environment where trust is lacking as “stressful,” “threatening,” “divisive,” “unproductive,” and “tense.” When asked how a high-trust work environment feels, the participants most frequently say “fun,” “supportive,” “motivating,” “productive,” and “comfortable.”

Trustworthiness is the ability for others to confidently rely on you when they are in a position of vulnerability.

Here are 7 practical ways to increase trust.

1. Bring risk takers into the management flow.

By nature risk takers tend to be much less controlling of the environment. Those who avoid risks at all costs tend to not trust themselves, let alone others. Mixing a few risk takers into the team can begin to 1) make the risk averse less so, as they see things work out and 2) foster deeper trust.

2. Include Type B personalities.

Type A personalities tend to see all situations as a potential blight on their reputation or the organization’s reputation. Type B personalities believe they can make things ultimately work out in the end. They are often more willing to say, “We’ll figure out as we go.” This eases everyone’s tenseness fostering greater trust.

3. Realize trust flows down easier than up.

When we are in a higher authority position, it is easier for us to trust those down the organization chart from us. Why? Because we tend to hold the power of reward and dismissal over them. If we trust them and they fail us, we can not promote them, curtail salaries or positional responsibilities or even fire them. This position makes it much easier to trust. In contrast, trusting up the organizational chart is much more difficult. If we trust someone above us and they fail us, there isn’t a lot we can do. Realize that your reports have a tendency to trust you less than you trust them. Assure them verbally and with steadfast action that you have their back.

4. Define “The Worst That Can Happen”

Distrust often comes when we project our “what if’s” on a situation at hand. These are often fraught with anxiety. “What if the outcomes of this project are not up to expectations? I’ll probably lose my job” is a worry that can emerge even when that ramification is far from true. Helping clarify expectations and allowing others the room to attempt big things and fail is another way to build trust.

5. Focusing on Increasing the Big Three Building Blocks of Trust.

People’s trust in us can be grounded in their evaluation of our ability, integrity, and benevolence. The more frequently and visibly observant these characteristics are in us, the more their trust will grow.

Ability refers to their assessment of our knowledge, skill, or competency. Displaying clear competencies in an area shows that you are able to perform in a manner that meets their expectations.

Integrity is the degree to which we adhere to principles that are acceptable to those we want to trust us. Consistency of past actions, credibility of communication, commitment to standards of fairness, and the congruence of the other's word and deed are key trust builders.

Goodwill is people’s assessment that we are concerned enough about their welfare to consider their interests highly in our decisions. They don’t want to guess our intentions or motives. Honest and open communication, delegating decisions, and sharing control indicate evidence of our goodwill.

6. Align Interests

The more our interests align, the more trust becomes a reasonable operating principal. A naive leader will assume that everyone in the organization has the same interests. But in reality, people have both common and unique interests. A good leader will turn critical success factors for the organization into common interests that are clear and even stroke the team member’s unique interests as a byproduct of achieving the success factors.

7. Realize there are different kinds of trust.

A University of Colorado study reveals that a shift in the actual method of trust occurs over time. They write:

At early stages of a relationship, trust is at a calculus-based (CBT) level. In other words, an individual will carefully calculate how the other party is likely to behave in a given situation depending on the rewards for being trustworthy and the deterrents against untrustworthy behavior. Individuals deciding to trust the other mentally contemplate the benefits of staying in the relationship with the trustee versus the benefits of 'cheating' on the relationship, and the costs of staying in the relationship versus the costs of breaking the relationship. Trust will only be extended to the other to the extent that this cost-benefit calculation indicates that the continued trust will yield a net positive benefit. CBT is a largely cognitively-driven trust phenomenon, grounded in judgments of the trustees predictability and reliability.

However, as the parties come to a deeper understanding of each other through repeated interactions, they may become aware of shared values and goals. This allows trust to grow to a higher and qualitatively different level. When trust evolves to the highest level, it is said to function as identification-based trust (IBT). At this stage, trust has been built to the point that the parties have internalized each other's desires and intentions. They understand what the other party really cares about so completely that each party is able to act as an agent for the other. Trust at this advanced stage is also enhanced by a strong emotional bond between the parties, based on a sense of shared goals and values. So, in contrast to CBT, IBT is a more emotionally-driven phenomenon, grounded in perceptions of interpersonal care and concern, and mutual need satisfaction.

Knowing which phase of trust you are in with a person greatly aids you in how to invest in that person to increase trust. Phase one CBT requires different communication strategies than phase two IBT. CBT growth tends to activities like those listed above. IBT is increased by the following according to studies.

  • Engaging in talk and actions that build a sense of 'we' rather than 'me.' A common name and shared identity reduces divisiveness and encourages individuals to work together.
  • Capitalize on co-location. As parties co-locate, their more frequent interaction can help them get to know one another better, strengthen their perceived common identity, and reduce distrust by exposing false stereotypes and prejudices. Co-location may demonstrate to the parties that they have more in common than differences.
  • Working toward the collective achievement of superordinate goals fosters a feeling of "one-ness" that can bring the parties together in a way that strengthens a salient, shared identity. Parties create and build products, services and activities that define their commonality and uniqueness. Nothing motivates better or builds more team trust than success!
  • Promote shared values and emotional attraction. Individuals should model a concern for other people by getting to know them, engaging in active listening, showing a focus on their interests, recognizing the contributions of others, and demonstrating confidence in other's abilities.

For a dynamic measurement of how developed your trustworthiness is, the Keller Influence Indicator measures Trustworthiness along with six other influence traits. This research backed assessment, pioneered through the Clemson University graduate school of business, is available at


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From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina