There is a saying that trust takes forever to build and a moment to break.
Early in my career, I had a situation where I lost the trust of a supervisor. It did not matter that it was due to a misunderstanding. I explained myself and apologized for the misunderstanding, but it was evident that damage had been done. This would not be a quick fix. I knew that I would need to work to restore this supervisor’s confidence in me, and it would take time.
Individually, no matter where you are in your life journey and career, at a fundamental level, your professional reputation may hinge on trust. Organizationally, in a world where many people have a multitude of options for where they work, what they buy and what they invest in, if there is a lack of trust, the reputation may become damaged and people may go elsewhere. So, what can you do to cultivate or restore trust?
To lay the foundation for trust, you need to be respectful of others. You may not agree with everyone’s opinions, and others may not agree with yours. That is perfectly natural, and it is what you want to have in an organization that embodies and encourages diversity. You need to be polite and professional, and let others be heard. We each have responsibility for whatever it is we do and everyone has their personal view. Be appreciative of that, and people will see that you respect their opinions. If a decision is made that people disagree with, they will be able to express their opinion and feel supported even if the outcome does not change.
Say what you mean; mean what you say
Be intentional in your communications. Remember your purpose and what you set out to achieve. Even if the focus of a task may be to complete a process or resolve an issue, building trust should always be part of your objectives. For me, this means that you are straightforward with people (respectfully) and let them know what matters to you. When you thank someone, be sincere in expressing your appreciation and show them that you mean it.
Do what you say you’ll do
Actions speak louder than words. To build trust, you need to be reliable and (no surprise) trustworthy. Don’t just say it; do it. Honor your commitments and follow through. Others will take notice that you do what you say and will develop trust in your actions and see you as one they can count on.
Own your errors and mistakes
You are human; humans make mistakes. It is important to understand your mistakes, acknowledge them, and not repeat them. If you can do this reliably, then others’ trust in you should grow over time. There can be violations of trust when that level of ownership is not demonstrated. This can also have other negative impacts to reputation and performance.
Be there for others
To gain trust, you need to invest your time and attention into others. This means you need to be present and engaged. When things aren’t “rosy,” listen and find out what can be done to help. People will be more inclined to confide in you and share their opinions when you put yourself out there and make yourself available. Understand that you need to do your part to grow the relationship. Not everyone will be comfortable in opening up, and that should improve as the level of trust is developed.
I am of the mindset that if you know or sense that trust has eroded, you take action to repair the relationship. It is a two-way street, and it is not necessarily a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong. There needs to be some willingness to take action and allow for trust to rebuild.
In my case, I had a conversation about the situation with the supervisor. It was not easy or pleasant, but it was necessary. It required listening without judging or getting defensive. Having a candid conversation led to more interactions where I showed respect, followed through, and delivered solid work products. I think that made the difference. Some of the greatest growth comes from lessons learned the hard way. However, I would not recommend learning this lesson the hard way. Do all you can to keep levels of trust high, and that will help you in all aspects of life.
- “Why Inspiring Trust and Trusting Others Are Essential Leadership Capacities Within Bounds”
- “The value of resilient leadership: Renewing our investment in trust”
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Christine is Deputy Director, Office of Ethics and Integrity of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This article was prepared by the author in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the FDA, DHHS or the federal government. Christine also serves as a Community Volunteer Leader for the American Red Cross, Montgomery, Howard, and Frederick County Chapter, and on the advisory committee for her city pool and fitness center. She is inspired to write about endurance, volunteerism, and career management, among other topics. In her “spare” time she is an avid swimmer and runner, and enjoys spending time with her family, friends and pets. Her motto is: “Work hard, play hard.”
This writing was prepared by the author in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the FDA, DHHS or Federal Government.