How to build trust in the workplace: 10 effective solutions

May 28, 2021 - 17 min read

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The basics — what is trust?

The two types of trust that you need to know

Why building trust is crucial in any relationship

Ten of the most effective ways to build trust

Building trust doesn’t happen overnight

Learning how to build trust at work is critical if you’re going to be successful as an employee, a manager, or an effective leader.

If you don’t have trust, it’ll be more difficult to communicate and coordinate with your peers or colleagues. 

You may get passed over for promotions in favor of someone more trustworthy. In extreme cases, a lack of trust can even bring down your entire team or organization.

Unfortunately, the truth is that most people haven’t been taught how to build trust.

Thankfully, there are proven and effective ways to build trust in the workplace.

We’ll take a look at a step-by-step process that you can use to start building trust in the workplace today. But first, let’s quickly review the basics of trust and the two main types of trust.

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The basics — what is trust?

You might not even be sure how to define trust. So let’s start there. When we discuss trust, we are talking about:

  • Being able to have a sense of security and confidence when dealing with someone
  • Having the ability to predict that someone will act in specific ways and be dependable
  • Earning a level of credibility that has built up over time

Trust is a critical part of all interactions that we have as humans. It also plays an integral role in communicating in the workplace

How long would you be the client of an accountant or lawyer if you didn’t trust that they had your best interest at heart? How long would you stay in a relationship or maintain a friendship with someone you didn’t trust?

But figuring out how to trust someone can also be as important as being trustworthy yourself.

Unfortunately, the statistics show that people trust each other less today than 40 years ago.

At an individual level, you need to have mutual trust with your romantic partners, family members, and friends.

The same is true in the workplace. You need to have a sense of trust built up with your coworkers. A high level of trust creates a more positive employee experience. It also leads to a more productive workplace where people feel safe and respected.

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But we never get explicitly taught how to build trust in school or anywhere else. Learning how to trust is something we’re just expected to develop as we grow up. 

Some people naturally excel at building trust. For others, the trust-building process we’ll discuss below may be entirely new.

Why should you care about trust?

When trust breaks down, you’ll notice an obvious shift in how someone speaks and acts around you. 

People who work at high-trust companies experience 74% less stress. The opposite is also true. A low-trust work environment can be stressful for everyone involved.

A boss or manager who doesn’t trust you is less likely to give you freedom and flexibility to work on your own terms. They’ll be more likely to micromanage you and carefully check your work.

Coworkers who don’t trust you are unlikely to collaborate with you or help you out. You also likely won’t get invited to after-work gatherings and events.

Building trust in teams from the beginning and maintaining it is crucial. Once your credibility starts to slip, people may see you as less reliable. 

Since people are unlikely to befriend untrustworthy people, your perception at work may continue to fall.

Especially now, with more people working from home as part of a virtual team, trust is more important than ever. A remote team must have a high level of trust.

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The two types of trust that you need to know

When we talk about building trust, there are actually two distinct types of trust that you should know about.

These types of trust are developed in different ways. Both are important and work together synergistically. So it’s critical that you simultaneously develop both types of trust.

The two types are practical trust and emotional trust.

1. Practical trust

This is the more traditional type of trust, and the one that usually first comes to mind when thinking about how to trust someone. 

You earn this kind of trust by being a hard-working employee. You show up on time. You get your work done and meet deadlines.

Earning this kind of trust will get you the reputation of being someone who’s reliable and competent. When you say you’ll do something, you actually do it.

Without this kind of trust, people will micromanage you. Communication can break down, and productivity will decrease.

Keep in mind: employers building trust with their staff is just as important as the other way around. Whether you’re a manager or an entry-level employee, it’s crucial that you build trust with those around you. 

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2. Emotional trust

People are less likely to be aware of this type of trust. You create emotional trust by going above and beyond what’s expected of you, and creating meaningful bonds with your team. It requires a level of emotional intelligence. 

Successful leaders tend to have higher levels of emotional intelligence, so this is definitely a good skill to start developing. 

If you’ve ever had a best friend at work, then there’s likely a lot of emotional trust between you. 

You knew that you had each other’s backs. You treated each other with respect. And you felt comfortable sharing ideas, thoughts, and feelings that you may not have expressed with other coworkers.

Building trust in this way is more complex as it doesn’t follow a set formula. It’s more about networking and relationship building.

Emotional trust is even something that can be built at an organizational level. 

Take Netflix, for example. 70% of their employees on Glassdoor would recommend working at Netflix to a friend. 

We would argue this is because Netflix hires with inclusivity and integrity in mind. Their employees work in a high-trust environment. They are also given more decision-making and information-sharing freedom.

Why building trust is crucial in any relationship

Learning how to build trust in the workplace (and anywhere else) is necessary if you want to create lasting relationships.

In romantic relationships, a lack of trust is one of the primary reasons for divorce. Learning how to trust someone again can be difficult after such a situation.

In the workplace, Millennials are 22x more likely to work for a company with a high trust culture.

Whether you’re building trust in teams or between individuals, the end goal is the same. You want to create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and helping each other out. 

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To have a sense of well-being and good mental health, we need to know that other people understand us and have our best interests at heart. This comes with having high levels of trust. 

It gives us peace of mind to know that everyone is working together as a team.

Being trustworthy also makes you more likable. It makes you more likely to get promoted or be positively recommended by colleagues. It unlocks potential for new or faster growth within your company.

It’s not just people that do better in high-trust environments either. Companies with high-trust workplace cultures perform nearly 2x better than the general market in terms of earnings.

Once trust is lost in any relationship, it can create an awkward feeling like something is off-balance. 

Things just don’t flow smoothly. Even if you can’t quite put your finger on why. While trust initially takes time to build up, it’s even harder to get back once you break it.

Ten of the most effective ways to build trust

Now that you know what trust is, and why it’s so important, it’s time to learn how to build trust in your own life and workplace. You need to take actionable steps to build trust. It won’t happen automatically.

Below is a step-by-step list that will outline how to build trust with nearly anyone. 

1. Value long-term relationships

Trust requires long-term thinking. It might seem convenient in the moment to blame someone else or to make decisions that benefit you in the short term. But before you act, think about how they may affect how others perceive you in the future.

2. Be honest

Developing a reputation as someone who is dishonest is one of the fastest ways to erode trust. Always tell the truth, even if it’s awkward; don’t give people an opportunity to catch you in a lie.

3. Honor your commitments

A trustworthy person does everything in their power to stick to agreements they’ve made. If you make a promise, follow through on it. Avoid making promises that you might not be able to keep.

4. Admit when you’re wrong

People don’t like to hear excuses. If you do something wrong, it’s best to just be upfront about it. If you realize you were incorrect about something, own up to it. 

Being vulnerable enough to admit fault can humanize you and make you appear more trustworthy. Admitting mistakes is also part of being honest.

5. Communicate effectively

Trust can be easily damaged by a miscommunication. Try your best to communicate in a way that doesn’t leave room for misinterpretation.

If you aren’t sure about something during a conversation, ask questions to clarify. 

Listening is just as important as speaking for effective communication. Make sure that you give others a chance to talk. It will show that you care if you genuinely listen.

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6. Be vulnerable

Being open about your emotions and showing some feelings can help with building trust. It shows that you care and that you're a person too. 

Don’t be afraid to let coworkers know if something has upset you or stressed you out.

This one needs to be approached carefully. You don’t want to go telling all of your coworkers' overly-personal details. 

A level of emotional intelligence is needed to make sure that you aren’t over-sharing or under-sharing. Begin by sharing gradually. Done correctly, opening up about your feelings can strengthen a trusting relationship.

7. Be helpful

Someone who is trustworthy will tend to go out of their way to help people if they can. Not because of some agenda or because they expect to get something out of it. But because they're genuinely a good person.

Maybe you’ve done all of your work for the day. You could just sit at your desk browsing the internet. Or you could be helpful. 

If you notice a coworker who is struggling with their own workload, offer to help. Or ask your manager if there’s anything extra you can take on. Also, there is never any harm in giving guidance and advice to that new hire who seems overwhelmed. 

8. Show people that you care

People will naturally trust you more if they feel like you’re truly interested in them. Remembering little details like the name of a coworker’s child, or asking how their weekend was is a good place to start.

You’ve probably worked with someone who seemed to be in their own bubble. They didn’t seem to care about anyone else besides themselves. You’ve likely also worked with someone who was friendly and regularly checked in to see how you were doing. Which person did you find more trustworthy?

Even something as simple as remembering and saying someone’s name can show that you care. As Dale Carnegie once said, “A person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.”

9. Stand up for what’s right

People respect honesty. 

While some bosses may like “yes” people who agree with everything they say, the best leaders value insights and opinions. Don’t sacrifice your values and what you believe just to appease your manager or try to get ahead. This will decrease trust with others.

10. Be transparent

As long as you can explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, most people will be able to understand.

Don’t keep secrets or hoard information for yourself. The people you’re building trust with are usually people on your team that you should be working collaboratively with. Share the information with them that they need to succeed too.

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Building trust doesn’t happen overnight

Learning how to build trust effectively will help you in all your relationships. You need to know how to build trust in the workplace if you want to progress. But it’s also for personal relationships as well.

When it comes to building trust, try to keep a long-term approach. Be honest, honor your commitments, admit when you’re wrong, and you’ll be well on your way to being seen as a trustworthy person.

Figuring out how to build trust doesn’t have to be difficult if you follow the steps we’ve outlined. Now it’s time for you to start taking steps to build more trust in your own life. 

If you want more support, reach out for a free demo and discover how coaching can help you advance in life and your career.

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Published May 28, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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