Turn your attention almost ANYWHERE and you’ll eventually encounter people talking about building trust. It’s an essential quality in relationships, business, marriageconsulting, and even social media. Not much gets done without it. And, most marketers (and authors who are working to sell books) will tell you that trust-building is critical to most sales funnels. Social media marketing experts tell their clients that consistency and good content builds trust. The more you and I interact with a blog, podcast, or website, the more we come to “trust” it.

Of course, this isn’t a new topic. Steven Covey’s best-seller, The Speed of Trust, helped to popularize awareness of trust’s importance. I see trust’s importance in my work at Bethel College, with Arbor Research Group, and even as an author. As I participate in meetings and lead decision-making, having people’s trust is more critical than just exercising my authority. As I step in and out of consulting and coaching relationships, trust is a crucial element for why Arbor is hired in the first place and then we have to earn trust so that our work matters and is implemented. Publishers work very hard to create books that earn readers’ trust. They do this by careful screening of authors, responsible editing of content, and then by giving attention to the recommendations, cover, and marketing to help readers recognize the trustworthiness and importance of that book.

Since I am a Purdue grad (a research university), I can’t help but always be curious about how something works. So, as I’ve been thinking about trust lately, I decided to do a bit of digging on the topic. Though I’m just getting started, it didn’t take long for me to come across some basic essentials for building trust. The list makes a fantastic checklist for your current position and work. Maybe it’s raising a family, being a volunteer, or coaching a team toward better performance.

Whatever you’re leading, take 7 minutes and look over this list of relationship-based trust-building essentials and give yourself a score (1 to 10, with 10 being highest) on how you’re doing. Remember that research shows that most of us rate ourselves a “7” in self-assessments when our people are more likely to rate us a “5” or “9.”  So, be honest if you can. If you want to risk a bit, ask two people you lead to rank you as well. That’s a great step in following-through on wanting to be more self-aware.

6 Essential Ways You Can Build Trust

  1. Develop empathy. Trusted leaders exhibit a level of understanding and others-focused. Self-centered leaders may be popular, but the moment they step off the platform, there’s nothing left. List the folks you’re drawn to and listen to and I bet you feel like they “get” you. Empathy and understanding go hand-in-hand. Trusted people have others’ interests and values in mind as they go about their work.
  2. Be consistent. Social media demonstrates this repeatedly. Blogging and podcasting regularly (don’t use me as an example, of course) have shown that the more we read and listen, the more we like and trust. Apply that principle elsewhere and think about in-person leadership. If a person is clearly in it for the long haul and is consistent in their responses (e.g. emotionally), then there is an element of trust. Not overemotional.
  3. Gently push people forward. They tell the truth. In ways that we aren’t. We want people who offer something we don’t have. Experience? Wisdom? Success?
  4. Help others see in fresh ways. The artists who write, sing, and draw help us experience the world in unique ways; they say things that are expressed like they’re putting words and feelings to our experiences that help us understand them better. Wisdom contributes to trust-building. Like it or not, intelligence plays a role in trust-building. Contextualizes. Challenge assumption.
  5. Allow others room to be who they are. If there is no room to think and act for ourselves, then we may be compliant, but truthfulness doesn’t follow. Give us options
  6. Have a sense of humor. This may surprise people, but a review of the literature shows that having a sense of humor and personality is important to trust. We need to know who’s behind the curtain. Humor diffuses tension.

All of these six come from a relationship-based perspective of trust-building. They assume that there is goodwill in the exchange and that there is a mutual obligation in place, that people are working in some form of community for a common goal. If those aren’t in place, then you’ll have to address that as you work on these six.

There are two other areas where trust is established (character-based and system-based) and I’ll unpack those in future articles. Character-based trust exists in authority structures where followers make assumptions about the leader based on his/her demeanor, consistency, and integrity. Those assumptions affect their own work performance and attitudes as well. We see this in parenting where a parent’s actions speak louder than his/her words. The same is true for leaders.

And sometimes leaders assume people are trusting them when things are going well when in fact there may be a trust in the system instead. Sometimes there’s a system in place and the trust of the people is put there while the leader fumbles along. People in an organization or institution hold opinions about it and those opinions affect their confidence in its viability and then whether they can trust the leader. If a system is strong, then a worker will feel less vulnerable to changes and will work with greater purpose and effectiveness. If a system is not well-ordered then, trust in it erodes and worker effectiveness dwindles too. I’m sure you can think of examples on both sides of this.

Ron Edmondson, in his latest book THE MYTHICAL LEADER: THE SEVEN MYTHS OF LEADERSHIP does address this a bit. He says the myth “If I’m Not Hearing Anyone Complain, Everyone Must Be Happy” is common for leaders today. An absence of conflict or rumbling doesn’t necessarily mean that people are in line with what’s happening. They could just be going along with things, but secretly hoping for a change. And that change may be us!

So, we need to build trust with others. If we’re a parent, aunt/uncle, boss, pastor, CEO, consultant, or a coach, trust-building is critical for our people to perform well in their work and in life. Build these six into your relationships and let me know about the results.



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