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The Missing Ingredient for Building Trust at Work

Self-awareness impacts trust; three questions to ask

At work most of us keep our big commitments. But it's not just big things that matter when it comes to trust building. From reply-all escalating emails copying the boss and the boss' boss and everyone else's boss, to saying one thing and doing another, trust is impacted by our actions. What you do is as memorable to others as what you don't do. Yet, too often people don't realize the messages that their actions send.

Fail to follow up with the answer to a question you said you'd look into for your staff with HR and that oversight may cause them to doubt your behavioral integrity. Arrive consistently late to staff meetings and others may think you don't value them because you don't value their time. Insistent on other people achieving the deadlines you set, but fail to meet your own, and your trustworthiness falters.

This is where self-awareness, the missing ingredient for trust building at work, comes in. Understanding the impact your actions have on those you work with or lead is a critical skill in the new workplace. You can't adjust your actions to communicate what you intend without self-awareness. And you can't build trust currency in an era of distrust without self-awareness.

What do your behaviors communicate to others? Are they trust-enhancing or trust-diminishing? As you cultivate greater self-awareness of how your actions might be perceived, you'll discover an essential and often missing ingredient for trust building. Here are three questions that can help you see your actions as others might and determine if they're trust-enhancing or trust-diminishing. Ask yourself:

1. Even if I can, should I? There are things you can do at work, and things you should. Knowing the difference makes a difference. Should you stay late when you're asking staff to? Should you pass along rumors or gotcha-stories? Should you share out-of-work activities? What you decide in these situations and countless others makes a difference in how others perceive your trustworthiness and trust-building intentions.

2. Would I be okay with it? If other people at work did the same thing you're about to do, or made the same decision you're about to make, would you be more, or less, inclined to give them your trust or perceive them as trustworthy? If you were viewing identical actions from someone else, what would you think about developing a trusting relationship with them?

3. What do my habits say to others about me? We acquire habits by constantly acting in a particular way. Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do." What do your habits communicate about you and your desire to build trust? Is your habit to micromanage, carefully parcel information, or withhold praise? Do you say no to new ideas or out of the ordinary requests rather than at least considering them? Do you close the door to avoid interruptions? Your habits impact how you're perceived. Like it or not, intended or not, your habits communicate to others how you see, value, or trust them.

You can't build trust without understanding the messages your actions communicate. The stories you tell, the links you send, the jokes you laugh at, the pictures you post, the causes you support, and the articles you talk about all communicate about you.

Your actions are a way for people to judge who you say you are and who you really are; what you say you value and what you actually value; whether you trust others, trust yourself, or are worthy of their trust. If you want more trusting relationships at work, grow them with greater self-awareness, because when it comes to trust building, everything you do, or don't do, matters. There are no little things when it comes to workplace trust.

More about the trust currency you need in the new workplace and how to build it:

You'll find more trust building approaches in Trust, Inc.: How to Create a Business Culture That Will Ignite Passion, Engagement, and Innovation


About the Author

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