Trust in the Workplace, Part 2:  What it takes to build trust

Category: Build a Life You Love

By Jeremy DeRuiter

In the previous article I shared a quick examination of all of the research-backed benefits to business that come from having high trust inside the organization. Then we looked at how every person starts with their base level starting amount of dispositional trust, which then gets modified with forms of impersonal trust that get swayed this way and that based on what groups and categories the other person falls into and how you feel about those groups and categories (we’re really talking about bias here).


Then there’s the really juicy part of trust, which is the trust built inside of a relationship, called dyadic trust, if you feel like being fancy. We influence trust in relationships in two primary ways, through personal care (affective trust) and by being reliable and doing what we say that we’ll do (cognitive trust).


Thinking about the things you can personally do to either become more dependable or to demonstrate personal care are at the heart of this list of recommendations. You will also see that I refer back to Stephen M.R. Covey’s breakdown of what it takes to be trustworthy: by having integrity, good intent, demonstrating your capability and showing results.


Given all of that, here are some practical tips for how you can work on building trust inside of yourself, your team, and your organization:


  1. Build your internal sense of integrity: Do you trust yourself to follow through? If not, it’s time to build that up. Set a goal for yourself in any area of life. Then make a small promise to yourself that is a step toward that goal. Something you can do this week. Achieve the small goal and then make a new one. Repeat and repeat, giving yourself grace for the occasional misstep that comes with being human. You will build momentum and confidence in your ability to achieve.

  3. State your intent: In new or fragile relationships, because you have a short, or perhaps weakened, track record, and because the only person who knows your intent behind your actions is you, state your intent openly to the other person. Make it a habit of frontloading conversations, especially “tough” conversations, by saying what you hope to achieve and how you want to help the other person. This builds affective trust.

  5. Honor your word: To build cognitive trust, you need to follow through. When you say you’re going to do something, you need to get it done. Yes, you’ll mess up (see #5) because you’re human, but if you want to build trust, the messes need to be the exception, not the rule.

  7. Don’t allow yourself to forget: Don’t let your very normal, very human, distractibility or forgetfulness to get in the way. Personally, I can be very forgetful, but I also pride myself on my consistency in following through. I use a combination of alarms on my phone, a to-do list app on my phone, and my calendar to make sure I don’t forget to do what I’ve said I will do. My number one vulnerability is that I occasionally forget to get the commitment written down in the first place. To combat this, I’ve built up a reflex of when I tell someone I’ll do X, I don’t move on in the conversation until I’ve got it jotted down. This helps you maintain and build cognitive trust and is part of your track record with the people around you (results).

  9. Clean up your messes: Yep, you’ll screw up. It’s inevitable. But as long as your misses are the exception, you can win trust back in the relationship by owning your miss (not blame shifting or using excuses) with the other person and by putting together a plan for how you’ll a) make things right, and b) ensure that it won’t happen in the future. This helps recover from a breach of integrity and the ensuing loss of cognitive trust. If done in an empathetic way that demonstrate you understand and are sorry for the damage done, it helps to rebuild affective trust

  11. Help others establish accountability: When you are in a meeting, make sure that action steps are clearly owned, whether that’s your job to do or not. Clarify by asking questions so that everyone knows who owns which next step, when they need to complete it, and what “done” looks like. If you don’t have a clear understanding to begin with, the team has been set up for misunderstandings and poor performance down the road. This creates a stronger foundation for cognitive trust within the team and helps everyone to stretch their capability and reach greater results.

  13. Practice gratitude: Keep track of the things that you’re grateful for in your day to day (I just keep mine in a note-taking app) and when you recognize that you are grateful for something that someone else did, go out of your way to express your appreciation in a way that they can hear (see #8). This will increase levels of affective trust and provides opportunities to clarify and share your intent.

  15. Learn languages of appreciation: Following the same line of thought of his more famous Love Languages, Gary Chapman’s The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace establishes a clear argument for why it’s important to understand how you yourself feel and express appreciation and how that syncs up with (or doesn’t) the people around you.  The better you’re able to meet people where they are when expressing your appreciation, the more fully felt it will be (affective trust).

  17. Be (responsibly) vulnerable When you open up to people in an authentic way, you are making a deposit in their emotional bank account, possibly sharing or clarifying your intent, along the way, all of which can lead to a virtuous cycle of them feeling safer to open up to you. Creating that sense of emotional safety is foundational to building trust (it’s both cognitive and affective). Responsibility comes in the form of having the emotional intelligence to understand where you are in a relationship and what the larger context is (power dynamics, the company culture, etc.) so that you don’t cross any boundaries when sharing. If you cross a boundary, you’ve officially made a mess, so get thee back to #5.

  19. Celebrate success AND failure This is related to #7 and #8 – throwing in your kudos to the people around you when they have wins in business and in life is a direct deposit into their emotional bank account (affective trust). Meanwhile, when people fall short of what they were reaching for despite trying their absolute best—and ESPECIALLY if they were stretching themselves by taking a risk—celebrate the courage that they exhibited and focus the conversation not on the ways that they fell short, but rather what they learned from the failure. This contributes to an atmosphere where people are better able to stretch themselves, take risks, and grow their capability—this is what it looks like to build psychological safety for a team!


I think that the thing I love the very most about this topic is just how actionable it is. Building trust creates value for the people around you in a way that they will be able to feel and the more trust there is, the better the business results. Building trust doesn’t require that a decision be made somewhere up high within the hierarchy and so much of it can be done within the confines of interactions that are already happening. It doesn’t have to take more time, it doesn’t have to add anything to the budget, it simply requires that someone takes a look at themselves in the mirror and realizes that they want to be the change. It requires some bravery and responsible vulnerability, but not much more. You can be the tipping point that kicks off a virtuous cycle inside your organization. Are you up for it?


I hope so.


So many juicy, amazing, and inspiring things are waiting for you on the other side!


My very best,