Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Fueling Trust & Engagement With Five Communication Practices

The power of authentic communication.

One thing is clear. The chicken and egg both matter. Trusting work relationships fuel engagement, and engagement is fueled by both trust and communication.

Research entitled "Authentic Leadership, Trust, and Work Engagement," published in the International Journal of Human and Social Sciences found, "authentic leadership promoted subordinate trust, and contributed to work engagement." The authors summarized the findings this way: "If leaders are seen as transparent, acting according to espoused values, and not displaying self-protective motives then they develop trusting relationships with their employees who in turn contribute to positive employee work outcomes such as work engagement."

According to a 2011 survey by IABC (International Association of Business Communicators) Research Foundation and Buck Consultants, A Xerox Company, "an individual's supervisor and the amount of employee communication in an organization are the top two influencers of employee engagement."

With over 70 percent of employees not engaged at work, at a cost in lost productivity to the U.S. economy of $370 billion annually, if you're someone's immediate supervisor, no matter your organizational level, you can positively influence trust, commitment, and engagement though authentic and effective communication. Use these five tips as a foundation:

Effective communication that fuels trust and engagement is...

1. A continuous process.

There is no on/off switch for trust-building communications. People who communicate only when they need something or when it's in their best interest to tell you, limit trust. Those who regularly operate as a conduit of information increase trust. That doesn't mean you pass on everything. There's a balance between protecting confidential or proprietary interests and sharing needed knowledge. When you have information others need to effectively do their best work, as a conduit, your role is to share it. What you communicate at work is different from what you might text, tweet, or post. Information that adds to overload or isn't pertinent diminishes trust.

2. Timely.

Share what you know, when you know it. Don't wait to package information. Keep bosses, staff, and peers in the loop on issues that pertain to their responsibilities. That includes the good news and the not so good. In less than a minute, a phone call, email, voice mail, or text message can alert people to direction changes, emerging problems, new perspectives, or meeting results. Not knowing critical information is a trust-buster.

3. A dialogue.

Communication that builds trust has a foundation built from integrity, forthrightness, and honesty. Expect and give honest answers. It's more trust-enhancing to honestly tell a staff member or coworker, "I can't share that information right now," than to tell a half-truth or to lie. Trust comes from being authentic, and that requires a genuine communication approach. Cultivate deep listening, ask clarifying questions, initiate dialogue, and seek understanding. Demonstrate with your actions that you value the person, and what they say matters.

4. About the why.

Most people do a good job of communicating the what, i.e. the basic information and direction. But few communicate the why behind the what. We're told we need to do something, but the understanding of how that fits into the bigger vision is left out, inhibiting more than independent decision making. Tasks without purpose impede engagement; work without reasons leaves people guessing; deadlines without the thinking behind them do not elicit commitment. If you want to build trust, spend time communicating the why behind the what.

5. Owned.

Own your message. It's difficult to deliver messages of serious critique, shortcomings, employment termination, unpopular policy, or organizational change. It's difficult to own up to your mistakes. But how you handle the difficult communications is itself a message. Don't delegate delivery. And a caution about word choice. Words matter. When you're accountable for your words, messages, and pass-along communication, and when you don't hide behind email, voice-mail, or text messages, but handle the difficult messages face to face or voice-to-voice live, your actions convey the bigger message of respect, caring, and compassion. While people may like not the message, they can respect the messenger. And that builds trust.

When you enable others through effective and authentic communication, you increase commitment and engagement. You also build trust. People trust people who help them succeed. People with good information make better decisions. People with no information make ill-informed decisions.

There is a power behind authentic communication. It builds trust. And trust is power. Power to engage; to bring out the energy, talents, and gifts of individuals, to build teams, and to achieve amazing results. Want higher engagement, commitment, and trust? Use these trust-building communication practices.

You'll also find more trust-building tips in my book, Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way.

About the Author
Nan S Russell

Nan S. Russell is a former corporate executive and the author of four books, including, Trust, Inc. and The Titleless Leader.

More from Nan S Russell
More from Psychology Today
More from Nan S Russell
More from Psychology Today