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The top 10 trust terminators

4 min read


Trust is nearly synonymous with leadership. And it’s big business. We buy books (from the selection of more than 80,000 about trust on Amazon. We attend seminars. And we work diligently to cultivate it with employees, peers, supervisors, customers — heck, everyone we know. But field research suggests that real and lasting trust may depend less on what we do and more on what we don’t do.

What our parents told us growing up is true: years of trustworthy behavior and trust-building efforts can unravel easily — sometimes with just one act. In fact, employees report that undermining trust is as simple a performing any of these top trust terminators.


Making untrue, inaccurate statements is only the tip of the iceberg. To employees, fibbing by omission (editing out or withholding something) is as bad as lying by commission (intentionally spreading false information.) As hard as it may sometimes be, candid straight talk is the foundation of trust, relationships and results.

Miss commitments

The definition of trust is the “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” Failing to keep promises, meet deadlines, or otherwise deliver upon agreements demonstrates a lack of respect, responsibility and accountability. All of which will quickly erode trust.

Say “just trust me”

These three little words speak volumes to employees. They say things like, “you’re not smart enough to understand”; “my time is too valuable to explain to you”; or “there’s something going on here that I don’t want you to know about.” It’s a powerful message that builds resentment and disengagement but not trust.

Speak badly of others

Gossiping, criticizing and berating people outside of their earshot is frequently confused with a strategy for bonding with others. It’s not! But, it is a sure-fire technique to guarantee that everyone else will worry about what’s being said behind their backs.

Behave inconsistently

Little undermines trust and confidence more than incongruence between words and actions. “A foolish consistency” may be the “hobgoblin of little minds” but it is also comforting to employees who are confused and unnerved when leaders fail to walk their talk.

Betray confidences

Loose lips sink (relation)ships. A tasty little secret or juicy bit of personal information shared by a colleague can be a terrible temptation. But discretion and its powerful trust- and loyalty-building effects are even more delicious in the long run.

Jump to conclusions and judgments

Most managers, by their nature, have developed the ability to spot patterns and trends, and this skill frequently contributes to their success. But what one does with this information can either build or break trust. Placing blame, scapegoating, or criticizing never works as well as (or builds trust like) gathering all of the necessary information and sharing appropriate constructive feedback in private.

Refuse to apologize

Leaders who believe that admitting they were wrong makes them weak are indeed wrong — at least about that. Customer-service professionals know that when a service failure is acknowledged and corrected, customer satisfaction and confidence are actually greater than if service had be delivered without a problem. This is not to suggest intentionally making mistakes, but when you do, the strength of character to apologize pays the dividend of elevated trust levels.

Make decisions that affect others

Nothing says “I don’t trust you” like making a unilateral call. Including people in decisions that affect their work is respectful. And since trust is reciprocal, demonstrating the faith and belief in others will lay the foundation for them to do the same with you.

Shave your beard

According to the Journal of Marketing Communications, men with beards are more credible than those without. (More research is required to determine if women should cultivate facial hair to inspire greater trust as well!)

Trust is the foundation of relationships and a key gear that keeps business running. So, if it’s true that trust is less about what you do and more about what you don’t do then leaders everywhere will want to hang on to their beards and immediate terminate the other behaviors the erode employee trust.

Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog at