Trust is a short word with myriad meanings, and the concept has a way of making itself relevant to pretty much any business situation.
As someone who spends their working life talking to leaders about the art and science of leadership communication, trust is central to what I do.
Leaders must communicate in ways that help to build trust, and the higher up the organisation you go, the more of an issue this becomes.
As David DeSteno writes in The Truth About Trust, “as power increases trust decreases”. The classic trust-building behaviours of leadership are not up for debate: be consistent, be good at what you do, be transparent, call on your track record. But in a volatile and uncertain world, consistency is tough; agility is often at odds with consistency. How can we be transparent when the picture is ever-changing? Even the most impressive track record can count for little in the face of disruption.
The key is to reveal more about yourself than might be your default preference. This isn’t easy; sharing thoughts and feelings and expressing humility, even vulnerability, doesn’t always come naturally. But openness is central to trust and strong leaders see every situation as a trust-building opportunity.
By considering eight key questions (see below), and sharing your answers, you can accelerate and strengthen trust building. Letting these ideas shape the way you communicate will boost trust and create a stronger bond with your team because they will understand you better and feel that you want to understand them. And ultimately, it will help you build a better understanding of where you are coming from as a leader.
Eight key trust-building questions to ask
- What behaviours do you value? Aim to be known for championing these behaviours.
- What underpins your decision? Explain your workings so that people understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.
- How do you feel about this situation? This will help create empathy and shared values.
- Have you been in this situation before? Relevant experience will instil confidence in your abilities.
- What do you want to understand? Questioning, listening to answers and responding to feedback will warm people to you.
- What are you trying to create? Explaining your intended outcome will help people buy into it.
- What’s in it for you? Be honest about how you will benefit from the outcome to keep sceptics in check.
- What role do you want to play? Be upfront about what people can expect from you.