Trust is a key factor in work-based relationships for many reasons including effective teamwork, less conflict and better relationships with supervisors. How do you build trust with those who are just getting to know you (whether you are new to the work group or you have a new supervisor or colleague)?

Understanding the Nature of Trust

In order to build trust in relationships, you must first understand what trust is comprised of.  What are the basic components of trust?

The Three C’s of Trust

Competence – To build trust with a co-worker, you must believe in their competence to complete the task you are expecting them to do.  If they do not have the ability (or you do not believe they do), you will either not trust them to complete the task, or your trust will be misplaced and they will disappoint you.

Consistency — Some people have the ability to accomplish the task but for a variety of reasons they do not do so consistently.  Whether they are unprepared, have not completed the task by the agreed upon date, or the quality of their work varies significantly from time to time, they demonstrate that they are not reliable. That said, most of us are not willing to place our trust (and our own reputation with others) on undependable people.

Character – An individual’s character is also a key component of trust in a relationship.  Specifically, they need to be honest in their communication, in their words and actions. This last point is critical in work relationships.  While we know and expect a colleague (a supplier or a customer) to make choices that are good for themselves, they should also consider what is good for everyone else as well.

Trust is Not “All or None”

The way people talk about life frames their perception of reality.  For example, how they view a person and how they react to them can be influenced by the terms they use to describe them. They may describe one person as determined, but another as stubborn – even though their actions may actually be the same.

The same is true for trust.  How someone talks about trust influences their reactions to others. Trust, however, is actually situation specific. The fact that trust is defined by the parameter of a specific situation provides the opportunity and pathway for building trust with others.

Steps to Building Trust with Others

When someone is just getting to know us in a work-based relationship, there is reason to be cautious, and trust is not automatic. It makes sense that we have to earn their trust.  The exception to this is when we have been referred to them and their trust in us is based on the referral’s trustworthiness.

Initial Steps

  • Acknowledge that your new colleagues don’t know your capabilities to complete the task successfully and it is reasonable to be cautious initially.
  • Affirm your trustworthiness to them. Show them you know what you are doing and can complete the task you are committed to doing in the time frame that they need and in the manner they desire.
  • Frame out the task they want accomplished.  Design the project and clarify the goals, expectations and completion date.
  • Consider breaking the task into smaller pieces so you can demonstrate your trustworthiness in smaller steps, especially in a new relationship.  The other person may be hesitant to trust you for the whole project and agreeing to a smaller initial phase with subsequent steps may make them more comfortable.
  • Do the job well, on time, and in the way they expect.  In fact, when possible, this is a great time to exceed their expectations—either in quality or completing the task ahead of time.

Expanding Your Trust in Relationships

Working through these steps establishes a trusting relationship with your colleagues, supervisor or clients.  Remember, their trust is only related to this specific project.  The way to build trust in a relationship is to repeat this pattern for different tasks and demonstrate your various skills, reliability over time and commitment to do what is best for them. Eventually, you will become a trusted and valued colleague.