The Key Steps To Building Trust: How It Can Change Your Relationships

building trust

As the fickle thing that trust can be, it can also bring a great amount of joy and happiness if you take the time to build it properly. Someone who knows that they’re in a trusting relationship is more likely, to be honest, helpful, and understanding. On the flip side, trust can be destroyed in a moment leaving both parties feeling confused and happy. With that in mind, it’s important to take the time to learn and understand how trust works in the first place to prevent unnecessary pain. 

Key Takeaways

  • While trust has some degree of logic involved in it, most of the concept revolves around our emotions and how the other person makes us feel. 
  • Becoming a trustworthy person, at work or in your personal life, is something that can take time. It’s something you can practice and learn if you’re not great at it yet.
  • As hard as trust is to build it’s incredibly easy to break it. Only one relationship with broken trust can affect your ability to relate to other people for the rest of your life. 

What does it really mean to have someone trust you?

Trust is an emotion all of us have heard about over and over again throughout our lives. But, would you be able to explain what it actually means to someone who’s never heard the word before? For a concept that is at the center of all human relationships, most of us find it surprisingly hard to define. 

That’s because trust is actually a feeling, an emotion. 

Getting someone to trust you involves a mix of credibility, reliability, and security. And these are all things that don’t happen overnight. Having someone trust you means they feel that your words, actions, and thoughts will follow a specific pattern. And that pattern will keep them safe. If you’re someone who constantly lies, is aggressive or erratic then you can’t be trusted. If people can’t expect a certain level of reliability and security from one then that makes you not trustworthy.  

Is trust an emotional or a logical decision?

Figuring out if trust is an emotional or logical decision can prove to be quite tricky. This is because while it’s categorized as an emotion it’s closely linked to logic. Kind of confusing, right? 

Let’s think about it from the point of view of a specific example. Let’s say you need a babysitter for your 10-year-old. While talking to a neighbour you find out their 16-year-old has experience sitting for older kids. So you reach out and hire them. You trust them to care for your child because you’ve met them before, they have experienced, and they’re older. Those are all logical decisions. 

But, if your child was 3 years old instead of 10 years old, and even if it was the exact same 16-year-old offering to watch them you might still say no. Why is that? The logical reasoning behind trusting them in the first example hasn’t changed. They’re still experienced, you know them, and they’re still older. Is it just a gut feeling that they might not be mature enough? Was there a one-off situation that made you doubt they would be up to the task? Is one single event enough to logically take them out of the running? Probably not. What you’re dealing with is the emotional aspect of trusting someone. 

What are the fundamental elements of trust?

One of the people that seem to have spent a whole career studying and learning about trust is author and researcher Brene Brown. With over 20 years of research under her belt and several best-selling books under her name (she sold 2 million copies of acclaimed self-help book Daring Greatly alone) Brene is a reference of the human experience. While her talks and lessons tend to center around vulnerability, trust is a huge aspect of that. 

Below we wanted to share what she considers to be 4 of several fundamentals of trust, so you can start to gain a bit more insight into the concept.

  • Boundaries. Learning how to respect boundaries is almost as important as knowing how to set them. If the other person can be 100% sure that you’ll honor their boundaries then they’re unlikely to trust you.
  • Reliability. When you say you’re going to do something, be sure to actually do it. Not only that but be sure to do it every single time to promise something. People need to trust that your word means something and that your promises are worth what you say they are. 
  • Secrecy. Being able to keep a secret is a key part of building trust. When someone opens up to you about something they don’t want others to know it’s not an honor you should take lightly. They need to trust that what they told you won’t leave that room. 
  • Accountability. Look, we all mess up once in a while. It’s common human nature. But what should also be common human nature is owning up to those mistakes and taking accountability for your actions. If you were wrong then apologize. It will do wonders in building that trust. 

What are the signs of a trusting relationship?

In work and in life, being able to have people with which you can create a trusting relationship is key in your development as a person. While what the base of those relationships look like can vary a bit from a work friendship to a relationship with your sibling, there are still several overlapping aspects.

When you’re talking to your boss you want to feel heard and understood, and the same can be said when chatting with your best friend. You can disagree but still respect each other and put in the effort to smooth out any rough patches. In both types of relationships you also don’t put each other down, abuse each other, or threaten each other. 

When it comes to non-work relationships there are even more signs that you’ve achieved trust with each other. Here are some specific ones:

  • They’re the first person you want to go to when you have news (good or bad).
  • You don’t want to make big life choices without talking it through first.
  • You don’t put each other in socially stressful situations you know the other doesn’t like.
  • When one is struggling emotionally the other will be there for them, and vice versa.

How to build trust in the workplace

Someone who has spent years of their life researching leadership and how that can manifest in the workplace is Frances Frei. A Harvard Business School professor, Frances’ research touches on the concept of trust so her insights on the matter are incredibly helpful. In this video of a TedTalk she gave in 2018 she talked about how to build (or rebuild) trust when it comes to the workplace. 

Here are the biggest highlights we took away from watching: 

1. Don’t be scared to admit the truth

Vulnerability is one of the best things you can do when it comes to building trust in a relationship. And doing so at work is no exception. Learning how to be brave enough to tell the other person how you really feel in any given situation is key. In practice, this could look like admitting if you don’t know something instead of pretending you do. It could also look like being brave enough to admit when you did something wrong (like if you forgot a project deadline) and not lying about it to save face. 

Admitting that you’re not perfect and you might have done something wrong will make you more human in the other person’s eyes. And when as people we see ourselves reflected in the other person’s thoughts, actions, or words we are more likely to trust them. This is because if we see ourselves in them then our brain can somewhat know what they’ll do next. That knowledge makes us trust that we’re safe (emotionally) with them. 

2. Practice emotional intelligence at all times

Think of the best leaders or bosses you’ve ever had at work. Can you pinpoint what made them all so good? It was probably their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability you have to consciously and positively manage your emotions and reactions to any given situation. Surprisingly, it’s not something everyday has but it is an integral part of building trust. This is because if we can know for sure (based on what has happened in previous situations) that we won’t be put down, yelled at, or belittled when talking to the other person then we’re likely to trust them. 

When at work this emotional intelligence can manifest in lots of different ways. Being able to take responsibility for your failures is a big one. Making sure you listen more than you talk, and ensuring you watch your reactions carefully before letting them out is also important. Always being sure to communicate as much as you can is also a sign of emotional intelligence. Don’t assume that the other person knows what you want or what you mean.

3. Be the most reliable you can be

While this does apply to your personal relationships as well, it’s never more true than when it comes to the workplace. This is because reliability is literally what you were hired for in the first place. They needed someone to do the job, who had the knowledge, and could be trusted to complete the tasks with little supervision from your manager (we’re not counting micromanagers here – those are a whole different breed).

What this looks like in practice is actually pretty logical. For starters, if you say you’re going to do something then be sure you actually do it. Don’t miss that meeting you committed to, miss that big deadline you said you could achieve, and don’t cancel things last minute. All you’re doing in these cases is plant the idea that if you did it once then you might do it again. And there’s nothing that will break trust quicker than people thinking they can’t rely on you to get things done. 

Is it possible to break someone’s trust?

In an ideal word the answer to this question would be no. However, if you’ve been living in society for any amount of time then you’re likely to have experienced a break in trust. A lot of the time it comes down to different values and needs (someone thinks oversharing isn’t a big deal, the other person hates it), but in the end breaking someone’s trust is much easier than you would think. 

This type of betrayal can be incredibly hard to rebuild once it’s broken. And the saddest part is that it only takes a small action and a quick second to break something that might have taken a lifetime to build. A betrayal of trust causes long-lasting hurt that can seep into that person’s every future relationship.

Here are some ways trust can be broken:

  • Being judgmental.
  • Laughing when the other person is being vulnerable.
  • Ignoring them.
  • Lying over and over again.
  • Never tell them how you really feel.

Final Thoughts

The idea of trust is a tricky, complicated, and very specific thing. It’s so nuanced and delicate that it can be broken in the snap of a finger. Trust as a concept is applicable in both your personal and work relationships, but there are some mild differences depending on who you’re building that trust with. What this means is that you might not take the same approach to build trust with your boss or team members that you would with your romantic partner or parent. 

In the end, however, the ability and knowledge on how to build trust is something that can give a level of satisfaction unparalleled to other types of skills. Trust makes both people feel safe, happy, appreciated, and heard.

Related Readings

Getting People Right (GPR) is an educational website providing professionals from all types of businesses with practical education in entrepreneurial leadership. To keep evolving your leadership toolkit, additional GPR resources below will be useful:

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