The Power of Trust in the Workplace

Be it a friendship, relationship or business partnership, all of the bonds we make are built on trust. Without it, we have nothing. With it, we can do awesome stuff.

I remember back in my days as a travel marketing specialist (you know, before the pandemic rendered such roles temporarily superfluous). We went through a bad spell of burning through line managers as the company underwent big structural changes. It takes time to build a trusting relationship, and with new faces appearing at the helm every quarter, our little marketing department began to feel isolated from the larger workforce.

It felt like there was no margin for error. The stakes were high. And the pressure of making every decision count was intense. We were in a state of flux, with no solid guidance. We didn’t really know who to report to, or what about, and so everyone just sort of went through the motions of their day-to-day jobs, too afraid to make radical decisions and face failure. And hoping that someone somewhere had a plan. The longer this went on, the more difficult it was to pluck up the courage to actually tell someone about it.

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“By the way everyone, we haven’t actually been utilising any kind of marketing strategy for 3 months now. The targets are totally unrealistic. I allocate an advertising budget like I’m playing roulette, putting money on whichever campaign ‘feels right.’ Oh, speaking of budget, does anyone know how ours is doing at the moment?…”

Just the thought of it used to make me sick with worry that any day now I would be rumbled as a fraud.

But this all changed when Zita* (whose name I’ve changed for privacy purposes) was recruited as our direct line manager. Things started off familiarly enough. I smiled and said all the things I knew she wanted to hear and then got back to my regularly scheduled programming of silently screaming into the void while I looked at my budget spreadsheet. As time went on though, I started to realise that Zita was different. She was more thoughtful, lacking in middle-management speak, and she wasn’t just here until something better came along.

I would observe the way she spoke to the intern with the exact same body language and tone of respect she used with the MD. She enthusiastically chimed-in on our daily lunchtime crosswords, shared candid tales of her backpacking adventures, and she never demanded lengthy reports to justify my decisions. After a month or so, I realised that she trusted me to know what to do without being micro-managed.

In a way this was worse, she actually thought I knew what I was doing! Somehow I had fooled her like all the others and she was labouring under the delusion that I was calmly going about my day putting the wheels in motion when in fact the wheels were in danger of coming off at any moment! I realised that I had to come clean…

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I fessed up and told her everything. How I was often paralysed by big decisions; too afraid to take risks for fear of failure and retribution.

There’s too much at stake here. What if my idea flops and the company folds? It will all be my fault!

I explained how I allocated budgets without any guidance and, basically, just made it all up as I went along. How I felt disconnected, siloed and out of the loop with the other teams. Then, I waited for the thunderbolt to hit. To my surprise, when I looked up at her she didn’t look angry, only faintly amused.

“I’m going to tell you what my manager told me when I was where you are now: how are you supposed to learn anything when you avoid failure? Failing is just a sign that you are doing something outside of your current capabilities. Failure is your friend.”

Over the following weeks, Zita worked with me to help me understand a universal truth of business: That nobody, no matter how experienced they are, can know if a campaign is going to work. You just need to trust your gut, make the best choices you can with the information you have to hand and see what happens. Knowing that she had my back gave me the confidence to start listening to that little voice inside that told me to go for it and just see what came back.

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Her candour made me feel safe. I began to take risks. I opened-up in 121s. I challenged ideas and targets from upper management. I felt something that I hadn’t felt in a while. Oh yeah: trust.

6 Ways To Build Trust in The Workplace

The thing about trust is that it’s built by lots of small actions over time. It’s not about nailing those hacks or tricks. But, hey, we all need to start somewhere.

Be transparent

Transparency opens the door for honest conversations. It helps remove some of the mystery or cynicism that can lead to feelings of mistrust. This doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers. It’s OK to say: “I don’t know, but let me find out”, in fact, this only builds more trust.

Listen. Really listen.

I’m talking about active listening, without interruption. This also means checking you’ve understood by paraphrasing what you’ve been told. Oh, and make sure you use a variety of feedback options to give everyone the platform to voice their thoughts in the way they feel comfortable with.

Stay consistent

Don’t underestimate the power of consistency. Think about it: when someone is consistent in how they behave, it creates a sense of reliability. You know what to expect, which brings a feeling of security and confidence. On the flip side, inconsistency leaves us wondering and unsure. We start questioning their integrity and their ability to follow through on their commitments. Being consistent lets others know that we’re dependable and sincere, setting a strong foundation for trust to grow.

Demonstrate inclusivity

Everyone deserves to feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work, and we all have a responsibility to create an inclusive environment. It’s a gift to have diverse voices. So make sure you let your team know how much you value their diverse perspectives.

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Be accountable

Holding your hands up to your mistakes is so powerful. Doing so fosters honesty and encourages risk-taking. Trust me, sometimes we need to see living proof that failures happen and the world keeps turning.

Put in the work

Trust has to be earned.You have to make a conscious effort to walk your talk, keep your word and align your actions with your values. It’s worth the effort. But remember that once you break trust, it can be very tricky to recover.

Establishing trust allowed me to flourish at work. And although, holistically, trust has to be demonstrated from the top down, it can take time to permeate a company’s culture. We all have the power to initiate our own frontiers of trust. And when we do, we can cultivate healthier work relationships and more authenticity. A win for everyone!

Curious to find out more? Reach out and discover how our training packages can help you and your team grow in the workplace.

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