Ask anyone to talk about people they trust, and the conversation will inevitably turn to how long they’ve known a person. While it’s true that trust is often built over time, we think the time variable isn’t necessarily the critical factor in how trust develops. Rather, it’s more likely the behaviors that we see from a person over that time.
For instance, Becky’s longest-term friendship spans more than two decades, but her shortest-term friendship is only a couple of years old. Yet, she would describe those relationships as equally high trust. Why? Because both of those friendships are with individuals who are authentic, demonstrate genuine care for her well-being, and are willing to tell her hard things when needed.
As leaders, it should be good news that developing trust doesn’t have to take two decades because we can’t wait that long to achieve the results we’re chasing. So, how do we fast-track it? Here are a few approaches that may help.
Of all the ways we can build trust quickly, this may be the most challenging. Many of us believe people should earn our trust. While we think there’s wisdom in extending trust incrementally—meaning that we start by trusting our new team members in lower risk situations—the fact remains that we must give trust in a small thing before we will ever know if a person is trustworthy with the larger items.
Make Expectations Crystal Clear
In our coaching conversations, we sometimes hear leaders talk about breaches of trust with their team members. Often those situations have one thing in common: the individual failed to deliver exactly what the leader wanted. As we deep dive into those conversations, we often see another pattern emerge: the leader failed to clarify expectations upfront, especially as it relates to how they wanted something to be done. When we extend trust to others, we must share our desired outcome and be clear if there’s a certain way that we want them to do the work.
Amid Mistakes, Practice 3 Rs
As leaders, we will make mistakes, and in the moments that follow, we can either undermine trust or build it. The result will likely depend on whether we practice 3 Rs: Regret, Repair, Reassure.
- Regret – express regret in a genuine way. Don’t hide behind language such as “I’m sorry if you were offended by what I said” because it shifts the blame to others. Instead, take ownership of actions by saying something like, “I was too harsh when I offered criticism about your idea in our meeting this morning, and I’m sorry.”
- Repair – even when we apologize well, we sometimes fail to take the next step, which is to repair our mistake. In the example offered above, that repair may be asking the individual to explain their idea again and reframe our concerns in a healthier way.
- Reassure – we are often tempted to provide reassurance verbally (“I won’t do that again”), but the best reassurance is behavioral. We build trust after mistakes when we don’t repeat the same mistake.
Reflection: Which trust-building activity is most difficult for you? Look for ways this week to build trust by practicing that behavior.