Trust in the Workplace: It's Built Every Day

By Kristen Harris

"Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work." --Warren Bennis

Imagine we’re driving down the highway. I’m going 60, 65, 70 miles an hour (maybe faster...don’t judge me), and so are you. I trust you’ll stay in your lane, and you trust that I’ll stay in mine. We both use our signals. We maintain a safe distance. Neither of us does anything erratic or unpredictable. And it works. At it’s best, highway traffic is an amazing trust-based orchestration of strangers working together.

Then THAT person comes flying up behind me, cuts in front of you, zips in and out of traffic, and shakes up everyone. We’re rattled because that person broke our trust. We trusted our fellow drivers to do certain things, and this person didn’t comply. Now we don’t know what will happen because they didn’t do what we expected. One person broke our trust, causing uncertainty, chaos, and maybe even an accident on our previously peaceful highway. (We secretly cheer when they’re pulled over getting a ticket a few miles up the road.)

Work is a lot like the highway. A group of people, sometimes nearly strangers, all doing their own thing together. Working on various projects, moving around each other, signalling intent and expecting certain things from each other. When we have trust with each other, and do things that continue to earn more trust, the workplace can be a pretty happy place. When something does get a little out of kilter, we can handle it and get back on-track because we trust each other. But it only takes one person breaking the trust, acting erratically or unpredictably, to cause all sorts of issues.

Trust is everything. You trust your co-workers to do their part, and they trust you to do yours. They trust that you can and will do what you said, and you trust that you’ll be treated fairly and paid as agreed. You trust them to help you develop, they trust that you want to grow and will work to do so.

Need to build better trust in your workplace? The best way to build trust is to be trustworthy. It starts with you.

  • Be honest and open. Share issues and concerns, work out problems together. Tell the truth, especially when it’s hard to do so.

  • Use good judgment. Do what is best for your business, employees, co-workers or clients. Even it’s not necessarily best for you.

  • Be consistent and reliable. Do what you say you will, and be honest if you can’t. Trust others to do their part as well.

  • Have a “we’re in this together” attitude. If people know you’re working in everyone’s best interest, not just your own, they’re much more likely to trust you and hear ideas.

This all sounds so simple, but it’s shocking how many people don’t do these things. The more you focus on building trust with others, and trusting them, the more they’ll trust you in return. See you on the highway...I’ll be the one trusting you!