Written by
Changeboard Team

Published
26 Jul 2017

How do you build trust?

26 Jul 2017 • by Changeboard Team

Trust in relationships emerges in two ways. It is either given immediately, or must be built up over time. People who are natural trust givers tend to be slightly more secure and less cautious based on their upbringing. This type of upfront trust is either then validated or it gets eroded over time.

When the relationship works, people claim that “they were right to trust” their peer, report or person in their network. If the relationship doesn’t work and trust was eroded, then the trust giver ends up disappointed with the other person.

As trust erodes, it can reach a critical point where trust suddenly collapses (the “hero to zero” phenomena). The ‘trust giving’ is much more common with reports we have hired or friends we have chosen ourselves. Relationships or even companies that operate in this mode tend to be more empowering; with more autonomy but often the goals are less clear.

If you are not a natural ‘trust giver’ then you are probably a ‘trust earner’. This means you do not immediately trust others. For you, trust must be earned and accumulated over time. Trust earners tend to be more cautious. Their start point is wariness and they don’t naturally trust until the other person has proven themselves worthy of that trust. Once trust is earned, they can be ‘loyal lifers’.

This mode is more common if you don’t know the person at all when you inherit a team. Relationships or companies that operate in this mode tend to be more performance driven with more controls, checks and fear but on the upside the goals are often much clearer. 

Are you a trust giver or a trust earner?

Building, or indeed rebuilding, trust for both trust earners and trust givers requires us to ensure the four key elements of trust are present. These ingredients hold true whether we are talking about peer relationship, your direct reports, your network and are independent of culture or geography.

Knowing this recipe can significantly fast-track results and performance. So if you want to increase the level of trust in your relationships, teams or organisation, you need to focus on improving one or all of these elements:

1. Personal connection

2. Understand motives

3. Consistent delivery

4. Working style 

Personal connection

To build deep levels of trust within a relationship, it’s much more effective to spend face to face quality time with people than simply connecting with them digitally. So for a leader this means walking the floor, or touring the ‘estate’ personally so you can literally meet and greet colleagues and customers.

But even direct personal contact is insufficient. It is necessary to create a degree of intimacy with the people you’re spending time with. This often means some sort of personal disclosure or sharing is required. 

Understand motives

It is virtually impossible to trust someone we don’t understand. We need to understand the other person’s point of view, values and beliefs. Where are they coming from? What’s it really all about for them?

When we come across an individual whose motives are different from ours, it is harder for us to trust them. The more we can understand someone’s motives and values, the more we can trust them – even when we don’t necessarily share those motives and values.

This is absolutely essential in successful relationship building especially when we are seeking to develop high performing teams. 

Consistent delivery

In order for us to trust others or for others to trust us, we need to deliver what we say we will deliver when we say we will. If people consistently let us down, we stop trusting them.

If we constantly let others down, eventually they will stop trusting us too. This happens all the time in business. People agree to things they have no intention of delivering, just so they can get out of the meeting or they want to look good so they over-promise and under-deliver.

If we want to build trust and develop positive working relationships, we must do the opposite: under-promise and over-deliver. Corporate brands are nothing more than a consistently delivered promise. If our brand promises something and we don’t deliver on that promise, we lose customer trust and eventually their business and loyalty.

Working style

Personal connection, an understanding of motives and consistent delivery are all things we can improve and therefore we can learn to build more powerful, trusting relationships.

Style is more difficult. Even if we spend time with someone, we understand their values and motives and they consistently deliver what they promise, we may still have trouble trusting that person because of their working style.

Sometimes we meet people we just don’t get on with; we don’t ‘click’ with them or how they behave, work, play or interact with others simply doesn’t resonate with us. Katherine Grainger, the UK’s most decorated Olympic athlete told stories of how she had to adapt to other members of the GB Rowing squad in order to win a medal.

To get the best out of others and build a degree of trust with people you don’t naturally resonate with requires us to find something about the other person, the relationship, or the situation that we can appreciate and value.

When we are highly socially intelligent, it is possible to work with anyone regardless of style. It’s even possible to trust and work effectively with people we actively dislike.

Carolyn McCall, CEO of easyJet, explains how she built personal connections at the airline:

“I created an executive leadership team forum almost as soon as I arrived, where the top 50 leaders in easyJet meet every month so we can debate, discuss and shape the strategy before it goes to the plc board, and also where we discuss key issues.

“After establishing that forum, we then created a very effective management conference twice a year with around 150 people. They are our leaders that have the most to do with managing our people. They really buy in because they feel they’ve been involved in all the key areas. I spend lots of time in the bases.

“We have 23 bases across Europe where we base aircraft and people. In the beginning, I went out and spoke to people around the airline, particularly the crew and found out what was wrong. I talk to lots of customers and I fly the network all the time. I work on the plane and listen to the crew.

“A big shift that I wanted to make is that I want our people to be open and to tell me the good and bad. I want them to challenge us. If there is a complaint about something, I will always reply. By being out around the business as much as I am, they see my face, we chat informally and I answer questions. They can see that I’m a human being and I really care.”