Trust has to be earned

Dear Joan:

I have just read your column on “The Newcomer’s Guide to Office Politics.” The one thing I noticed was that your article talked extensively about how to avoid people mistrusting you. But, there was no mention of how to build trust. As a newcomer to the office environment myself, I have found that getting people to trust and believe in you is the hardest task of them all.


My question is how does one build trust quickly?



I had just finished an extensive organizational assessment for a large corporation, which resulted in the termination of one of the department heads. Now, I was standing in front of a group of hostile managers from that department, who happened to like their former leader (unfortunately, the rest of the organization lived in fear of him). The next phase of the project included working with them to implement the necessary changes. What followed, over the next several months, serves as a good case study on what is necessary to build trust.


Tell people the truth about what you are trying to accomplish and why.

Whether you are an employee, a manager or a consultant, the people with whom you work want to know what your motives are. They sniff around to see if you have any hidden agendas. They are wary of new people until they have a chance to see them in action for awhile. Rather than waste time, tell people what you’re doing and then explain why. Put your agenda on the table.


Answer tough questions truthfully.

My first day in the hostile department was a tense one. My client, a senior executive, bought lunch for the group and introduced me to the managers I’d be working with. After explaining what I was there to do, I invited questions. One person asked a pointed question about why they weren’t involved in the assessment interviews. While I had interviewed four senior people in their area, I had not talked with any of them. My answer was straight, “Our primary goal was to find out what your internal customers thought. We also had to stay within financial parameters, so decided to stop with the four interviews we did do in your department. The results were so consistent across the organization, we didn’t think it was necessary to interview all the managers in your department.” My honest answers invited other probing questions that these managers had been speculating about for days. They learned quickly that I would answer their questions honestly and completely.


Face time is crucial.

You can’t build much trust via email or phone. For trust to develop quickly, people want to watch your face, your body and your gestures. As humans, we draw conclusions about whom we can trust from the interpersonal experience. It’s one of the reasons so many organizations bring their remote employees to the company headquarters for conferences and meetings. Without the face-to-face contact, words and deeds are misinterpreted and differences seem exaggerated. When we don’t have the full information, we fill in the blanks and it’s usually not with the good stuff. Only by working directly with the managers over a period of months, were they able to see that I was worthy of trust.


Let people know you really are interested in their well being.

People are skeptical and cynical for good reason; plenty of them have been on the receiving end of lousy management. If you truly care about the people with whom you work and convey it by listening, helping and trying to make their condition better, in the end you will win their trust. But beware of looking like Mr. Slick, the self-serving fellow who manipulates and tells people what they want to hear. Caring about others’ needs has to be genuine and balanced with straightforward talk about end results. And one of the best ways to show you care about people is to tell them the truth about how they can succeed and what behaviors are getting in their way.


Be consistent and dependable.

Dependability is a big component of building trust. Do what you say you will do. Fulfill promises, no matter how small, quickly and thoroughly.


Actively seek and listen to input about changes.

Don’t go through the motions…really listen. Ask for people’s advice. Let them try out their ideas. Act on their suggestions. Once they know that you won’t do something that will surprise them or push them out of their comfort zone without getting their involvement throughout, they will begin to trust you.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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