Trust is an essential pillar of any flourishing relationship. While trust can be challenging to define, we know it when we feel it or, more practically, when we experience it. We feel it when we believe in the reliability, truth and authenticity of someone who operates with fairness and in our best interest.
It’s fundamental to who we are and how we interact with the world around us. As a recent journal article in Frontiers in Psychology notes, “All forms of social interaction involve at least some degree of implicit or explicit trust.”
According to a 2023 study on relational dynamics, 30% of people associated “true love” with trust and loyalty, while nearly 50% say that finding someone trustworthy is essential to their relationship goals.
What’s true in life is often present in business.
Since organizations are essentially the culminating product of the people within, trust is essential to thriving companies. Unfortunately, many businesses are failing to cultivate this critical quality at work. A 2023 Gallup survey found that just “21% of US employees strongly agree that they trust the leadership of their organization.”
What’s worse, many don’t even know this gap exists. PwC’s 2023 Trust Survey found that 79% of business executives think their employees highly trust them, but just 65% of workers share this sentiment.
Understanding that beyond having trusting relationships feels great day to day and creates healthier, stronger relationships at work, they come with many benefits to the collective, including reduced turnover, higher productivity, accelerated innovation and improved customer satisfaction, it becomes clear that trust in the workplace isn’t a “nice to have.” It’s the whole game.
Of course, leaders can’t instill trust overnight. It takes time to cultivate trust, and you can lose it instantly. Whether you’re looking to prioritize trust in your workplace or repair the damage from lost trust, here’s how to get started.
1. Invest first
Too often, leaders wrongly believe that people start from a basis of trust. In reality, the exact opposite is true.
Leaders or team members enter a new situation and bring a comprehensive schema of previous experiences, hurts, cynicism and expectations. Even for existing teams, one-third of people say they “don’t feel comfortable going to their manager with workplace issues.”
Don’t expect to quickly develop trust when this dynamic is present. That’s why the leader has to go first, creating a symbiotic relationship with trust at its core. Actions that build trust include the following:
- Transparency: Prioritize clarity in decision-making, inviting all employees to the table so people know how and why decisions are made.
- Vulnerability: Share the real stuff. The hard things you are facing. Commit to sharing information that, by many accounts, might be considered privileged. When you’re vulnerable and bring them into the actual machinations of what’s happening and share important information, you are demonstrating trust, which builds trust.
- Competency: Demonstrate your skills, knowledge and ability to perform your role effectively, and then, more importantly, become the most dependable person they have at work.
When cultivating trust in the workplace, the equation is simple: every action either builds or erodes trust. It’s like a savings account. You either make deposits, or you make withdrawals. You should aspire to leave every interaction by depositing in the trust account.
This process can be arduous and scary, but leaders must be willing to go first, making the leap and taking steps to build or rebuild trust at work.
2. Be authentic
Building or rebuilding trust demands leaders take the first step. Still, it also requires them to act authentically, understanding that people always watch them for signs of honesty and integrity. Your teams must know that what you’re saying is real and is true to you and what you believe.
As is explained in Harvard Business Review, authentic leaders “have high standards of integrity, take responsibility for their actions and make decisions based on principle rather than short-term success.”
In other words, authentic leaders know that they won’t always do everything the right way, but they readily admit their mistakes. Simply saying, “I was wrong, and I’m sorry,” can profoundly resonate with a team, fostering a sense of respect, humility and trust that a facade of perfection could never achieve. People are adept at discerning the genuine from the superficial, and building and sustaining trust means more than half-hearted lip service to an insincere priority. It means full-hearted engagement, bringing truth and authenticity.
#3 Trust yourself
Building or rebuilding trust takes time and effort, but it is possible, and you can do it. Believe it. Trust in your capabilities, decisions and integrity because building trust is an inside-out process, starting with introspection and self-awareness by you as the leader.
By understanding your strengths, acknowledging your weaknesses and embracing your authentic selves, you send a powerful message to those around you: they, too, can be genuine in their interactions. In essence, before you can expect others to trust you, trust yourself.
Trust: Your business’ ultimate asset
Trust is a fundamental cornerstone of great companies, and it’s in short supply. A pervasive gap exists between perceived trust by leadership and actual confidence employees feel. This highlights the need to evaluate and recommit to cultivating trust amongst our teams and companies.
Companies and leaders must recognize the value of trust, treating it as a tangible asset and your most valued. To cultivate this asset, you must take proactive steps like leading with transparency and vulnerability, embodying authenticity and nurturing self-trust.
In a world where fleeting metrics and superficial achievements often take the spotlight, it’s essential to remember that genuine, lasting success in any organization is built on trust. It’s your business’s ultimate asset and one you can begin cultivating today.
Mike McFall is the co-founder and co-CEO of Biggby Coffee, one of the fastest-growing coffee franchises in the US. He is the author of “Grind” and “Grow,” the first two books in a three-book series that offers practical advice for entrepreneurs looking to turn their business concepts into successful ventures. He is also a speaker and teaches a class on entrepreneurialism at the University of Michigan Center of Entrepreneurship.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.