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Creating trust in the workplace – doing more than the basics

Trust elevates everybody, but you can do better than just the fundamentals.
Trust elevates everybody, but you can do better than just the fundamentals.

Show up on time, work hard, don’t steal anything – that’s all there is to it, right? Turns out those are table-stakes. Creating and cultivating trusting relationships in the workplace is one of the best things you can do for your career – and your work/life balance – but most of the tips on how to do see deal with the absolute basics: don’t talk about people behind their back, don’t pretend at beliefs you don’t have, don’t be inconsistent. The holy trinity of competence, reliability and sincerity is fundamental to trust, nothing can be built without it.

But… you’re reading the Juggle Blog.  All that stuff is table stakes; we’re going to assume you’re already doing it (we’re also going to assume you aren’t stealing stuff). Here are five ways to go beyond base-level integrity and become the kind of trustworthy colleague and employee that develops lasting and profitable relationships.

 

1. Discuss your failures

The urge to downplay or even outright conceal your failures at work is understandable. And the failures that led up to a successful execution don’t need discussing at all, right? Just don’t mention it, and your bosses will think you do things perfectly most of the time. Aside from being utterly exhausting, pretending at perfection may label you less trustworthy in the long run. Not only will eventual failure be a surprise (and potentially label you as unreliable), vulnerability is a key aspect of trust; in the words of Psychology Today: “unsafe people do not like to admit weakness.”   

Unavoidable failure – and if you’re trying to be innovative and industrious there’s one coming eventually, don’t kid yourself – is surprising when it comes from someone who always seems to deliver without breaking a sweat. Save yourself the hassle and share the steps it takes to get to success. Not only does this give bosses and colleagues a better understanding of your workload and schedule (ie how hard you worked to make this happen) but the information is probably useful for anyone doing similar work.

And when you do fail, own it as early as you can. You’ll minimise disruption to others, avoid being placed in a position where you need to justify yourself and, hopefully, get the help you need to rectify things ASAP. There’s an art to talking about your challenges, however. This Muse article on the subject is great (and work-focused), but the key points are:

  1. Avoid being self-deprecating – this prevents honest discussion.
  2. Avoid being a martyr – you don’t want to lay blame elsewhere, we get it. But being accurate is important, and you can’t fix problems that weren’t yours to begin with.
  3. Stay away from harsh language.
  4. Emphasize what you learned.

 

Don’t procrastinate – confront your issues

This relates to the first point, but it applies beyond difficulties in your day-to-day work. A problem put off for another day has a tendency to multiply or grow more complicated by subsequent circumstances.  The main reason people allow situations to snowball is that we simply don’t like difficult conversations, and avoid them unless we’re absolutely forced into them.

Here’s a completely mundane example that a solid percentage of us have nonetheless lived through: you have plans to take a specific day off work in the distant future. It’s months and months away, so you haven’t booked it as leave yet. Then you get word of a work event that looks like it’s going to clash. Your boss might be annoyed if you try to book the day off now, so you just… don’t. You leave it. And a couple of months down the line, when the need is pressing, you discover that someone else has already taken that day off, so now your boss is going to be even more displeased. You could’ve bitten the bullet on this months ago.

This situation seem ludicrous to you? Congratulations on being a nettle-grabber. Everyone else: buck up and address issues early. Procrastination is the enemy of reliability.

 

3. Take a consistent position (without pretending to be above it all)

Every article we’ve read tells you to steer clear of office gossip, so we’re going slightly off-piste here.  Office “gossip” is poorly defined. Sharing information can be the lifeblood of a workplace relationship, and is often the only way employees can get knowledge that might be valuable to them (most employers are more secretive than they need to be). If people trust you, they will feel they can confide in you. A point black refusal could end up damaging a relationship.

Our advice is to decide on a consistent position and stick to it. Decide what’s fine to natter about and what’s private. What’s fine to keep a secret and what should be shared with your team. What you’re fine to brood on yourself and what you feel compelled to talk to management about.

Consistency is key to trust – people share information based in part with what they expect you to do with it, so make sure you’re clear about how you roll in this regard. You don’t have to take a noble stand or pretend to be above it all; a simple “can we talk about something else?” is all anyone needs.

 

4. Take people along, then give them credit

You can’t do it all on your own. Forget departmental silos, often what stymies our workplace development is the tiny silos we create for ourselves. Need an ad-hoc piece of data to support a theory? Ask. Could a team-mate do one of your tasks in half the time, freeing you up for something else vital? Ask. Stuck for creative ideas? Ask. It doesn’t have to be framed like a favour – because it’s not.

When the work’s done, make sure your collaborator gets the credit they deserve. You’ve shown their hard work to a brand new audience, they’ve helped you create/fix/execute better and faster than you could have on your own. This is how businesses are supposed to work. But neglecting to give credit where it’s due leads to, if not outright resentment, then at least the silo-ing of personal endeavour (just check out the results from this Google search on the subject to see how things normally go). They’ve trusted you with the fruits of their work. Reward that trust, and it’ll be repeated.

 

5. Understand and manage personal expectations

 

Most people probably think that five minutes delay isn’t significant enough to get worked up over. You might personally believe that. But a colleague who’s a stickler for timekeeping is going to have a hard time trusting someone who isn’t. “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” The tricky part is not meeting people’s expectations (which are normally quite straightforward) – it’s figuring them out in the first place, and learning not to project yours onto them.

Learning someone’s personal expectations and trying to adhere to them demonstrates that you respect them and their time, and you’re prepared to make occasional sacrifices to maintain that respect. If they won’t do the same for you then that’s another matter, but are the people you work with aware of what you consider good behaviour? Have you ever made them politely aware of it? If someone is consistently five minutes late it most likely means they aren’t aware that the person they’re meeting places huge stock on punctuality. Don’t seethe in silence, and don‘t allow others to either. Ask about what they expect, and give them your expectations in return. Doing anything else is just waiting for resentment to brew.

 

Why bother?   

You already show up on time, work hard, and don’t steal anything other than office supplies. You’re already a Juggle Blog reader, so we assume you’re serious about the three fundamental points of reliability, sincerity and competence. Why go the extra mile here, especially if it doesn’t look like others are going to be so forthcoming with you?

At Juggle we firmly believe that it is better to be proactive than reactive. The problem with a lot of advice on trust is that it is reactive – suggesting how to respond to a particular situation, or the behaviour of another person. There are two issues with this approach. The first is that… well, it’s not very disruptive. Reactive modes make genuine change unlikely. The second problem is that reactive thinking is often a “run to failure” strategy – it works until it doesn’t for whatever reason, and then maintenance is necessary. But a single breakdown of trust in a relationship might never be overcome. Demonstrating proactive trust both creates new trusting relationships and focuses on situations where trust is created and rewarded, rather than only situations where it is tested. Like we said at the top, reacting with integrity when trust is tested is table stakes.   

Trust is a process and, when properly established, becomes a virtuous circle. An act of trust is reinforced when that trust is kept, and rewarded with reciprocal faith. Each fulfilled act cements the trust and will incentivise further acts.

It can be win-win for everybody – but someone has to take that first step. Someone has to demonstrate they are worth trusting, and if no one else is going to do it, it might have to be you.

Is it worth it? We think so. You’ll have to trust us.  

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