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How to Build & Regain Trust at Work

As we pointed out in our previous blog, trust can take some time to develop, but in contrast, it can take just one small action to instantly break it.

Building trust in a working environment is an ongoing process - not an immediate fix - and can take a considerable amount of time and effort. But, it's an essential component of any strategy as with trust in place your people will be more engaged, happy and productive, and your customers more satisfied and loyal.

Trust is built through an individual's or organisation's actions, as opposed to words, so here we'll explore exactly how you can demonstrate on a daily basis that you and/or your business are trustworthy.

Trustworthy traits of great leaders and successful companies

Being a successful leader relies on gaining (and maintaining) the trust of your employees and colleagues. Similarly, having a successful business relies on achieving the trust of your customers.

Employees in particular are sometimes predisposed to distrusting, or at least being suspicious of management, so it should be the aim of every leader to firstly be aware of this and secondly, work to abolish any distrust that does exist.

But how do you do this? Well, it doesn't have to be complex.

Building trust between you and your staff, or indeed your business and your customer, is all about building strong relationships. It's about being a manager who's friendly, approachable, supportive and who genuinely cares about the wellbeing and development of their staff. When it comes to customers, the theory is similar, and relationship building based upon a genuine interest in your customers' own objectives and experience with you, is key. That's because a large part of being trusted relates to being liked.

Earlier, we talked about trust coming down to actions, not words, and this is especially true in the workplace. A good manager should always follow through on their promises, remembering to be open, honest and transparent wherever possible with employees. Meanwhile customers will expect the same level of openness and authenticity when it comes to using your services.

And lastly, confidence is key! You need both your employees and customers to feel confident in you as a manager, or in your offerings as a partner.

Below we share our practical tips for building relationships, demonstrating openness and authenticity, and instilling confidence, all fundamental traits for building and maintaining trust.

Steps to building workplace trust

1. Be human

Just because you're in a professional environment doesn't mean that you can't be friendly. Asking about people's days, what they did at the weekend or their lives outside of work will provide you with the basis for a strong, trusting relationship. It comes back to our point about being likeable - people trust people (or companies) that they like. Consider working on relationships, where possible, outside of your workplace. A simple meeting over coffee or lunch can make employees, colleagues and customers feel more comfortable and relaxed in your company, meaning the ability to build trust with them is much easier.

2.  Empower people

Making people feel empowered will significantly help in your quest to build trust. This point possibly applies to your employees more, but there's no harm in looking further into how you could empower your customers too.

For staff, feeling empowered often means allowing and encouraging autonomy. Let people plan their own days, taking on responsibility for their own tasks. You can support by laying out achievable objectives, development plans and career paths. Once people know that you're supportive of them, and that you trust them to complete their work autonomously, the feeling of trust is reciprocated, and employees are much more loyal.

3. Reward/celebrate success

Linked closely to our previous point, it's important for managers to instil trust through recognising and rewarding success. This doesn't always have to be in the form of costly employee bonuses but can be achieved through smaller weekly incentives/competitions, or by simply buying in lunch occasionally!

The same should be remembered for customers. If things are going well, whilst you'll want to avoid situations that could be construed as bribery, remembering to recognise joint successes or milestones in your working relationship are fundamental in building a trusting and lasting relationship.

4. Communicate openly

Open and transparent communications are a must when it comes to creating trust between two parties. There's no right or wrong way to communicate with your employees and customers but choose a strategy that fits your business and culture and however you decide to best communicate, do so consistently.

Silence from management or a partner causes concerns and suspicion - people wonder what you're hiding from them and start to fill in the gaps themselves. Ensure that you, as a line manager, are regularly communicating with your people, but also work with those at the top to make sure that larger announcements or updates are communicated directly by them.

Communicate with your people and customers regularly to enforce a feeling of openness and transparency. Always follow through on your promises. And probably most importantly, make sure you communicate even bad news. People need to understand that you'll tell them everything - warts and all - to fully trust in you/your organisation.

5. Take time to listen

Communication works both ways - don't get hung up on strategising how you will share your news/updates only. Make sure you're allowing your employees and customers to have a voice too and provide a comfortable, safe forum in which they can voice their opinions and/or concerns. This is crucial step in building trust in any situation. 

6. Know where you're going

Do you have a clear vision, mission and values in place? If not, working to define them is central. It's difficult to instil trust in companies where a shared vision/goal doesn't exist.

Through outlining a collective vision, mission and values, employees will feel confident about where they and the organisation is headed, and trust that those in charge are able to lead them there.

For customers, it's no different. And if your values, vision and mission happen to be similar, or align with their own, trust between you is only strengthened even further.

7. Ensure trust is company-wide

Although this point can be slightly harder to enforce, it's helpful to understand that for an organisation to be truly successful, trust must be company-wise. Work with your Board and colleagues to make sure that activities and behaviours that instil trust are happening across all departments and within all teams. Whilst it's great if you've been able to build trust within your own team, it's fruitless if that trust ends with your own direct reports, or with just one client. Work, therefore, with your HR, training and culture teams to ensure that your ultimate goal is a consistent approach to gaining trust across your entire organisation.

A note on rebuilding trust

As we've identified, building trust is not always easy. Many of us will know from personal relationship that trust's often hard to gain and the same applies to professional relationships too.

Trust can be broken in an instant, typically when promises aren't followed through with action, or breakdowns in communication occur. It can take a lot of time and effort to regain broken trust, so our recommendation is always to ensure that you do all you can to maintain trust.

But mistakes do happen and if you find yourself in a situation where you're having to rebuild trust, start by admitting your mistake and explain clearly how you intend to rectify it. Be accountable and take responsibility. You'll gain more respect (and in turn, more trust) through doing so. Follow this up by revisiting and actioning the points above and in time people's trust in you should be restored.

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