From Trust Busters to Trust Builders: Three Ways to Gain Trust in Your Culture

Perhaps one of the greatest retention tools in today’s fast-paced environment is to consciously create a culture of high trust. When employees trust their boss, productivity increases and retention remains stable.

Stephen R.M. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust says it best, “When trust is low, in a company or in a relationship, it places a hidden “tax” on every transaction: every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision is taxed, bringing speed down and sending costs up. My experience is that significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done.”

Covey stresses the two primary components of trust building which includes character and competence.

Character includes your integrity, motive, and intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, skills, results, and track record.”

Within the competencies and skills category—assuming the character and integrity is intact—this article addresses three trust-busters with easy to do checklists—Trust Builders—to significantly increase trust in your department, teams, indeed, your workplace culture.

Trust-buster #1 – Inconsistency

Inconsistencies can happen in almost any area of the business. For example, the outdated policies don’t align with the realities of the current state of the business or processes that have yet to be defined. Another area of inconsistency is in leadership behavior. When the boss has uncontrollable fits of anger, employees don’t know what to expect and are often afraid to speak up when speaking up is necessary.

Why consistency is important

In times of uncertainty the brain registers uncertainty as a threat. In today’s world of speed and uncertainty, dialing up the certainty gives your organization a competitive advantage. Consistency is the key to successfully managing in uncertain times.

Trust Builders to Increase Consistency

  1. Update policies to match today’s reality.
  2. Document and update processes.
  3. Schedule conversations to introduce changes and updates.
  4. Only hire leaders who are high in emotional IQ and communication skills.
  5. Hire and discipline based on stated values.

Trust-buster #2 – Broken Promises

The easiest trap for new managers to fall into is making broken promises. Statements like, “Great idea, I’ll get back to you,” almost always backfires. Sometimes change happens due to outside circumstances, such as new legislation, political agendas, or environmental issues. There will be times when you simply can’t keep a promise. In these rare circumstances, communicate changes so that you don’t unintentionally create a lapse of trust due to the perception of broken promises.

Why keeping promises is important

Keeping promises or updating employees when an unexpected change occurs helps employees to feel secure. They perceive that what you say goes. This gives them the freed up energy to move forward with confidence. If they perceive that what you say is the “flavor of the month,” they simply won’t put their heart and soul into their work. They will procrastinate and wait for the change they think is coming.

Trust Builders to Increase Promise-Keeping

  1. Schedule all agreements. Even statements like “I’ll get back with you” requires a date on the calendar.
  2. Set realistic expectations on new ideas. For example, initiate a pilot program to test new ideas so that there’s an ending place if the idea doesn’t work.
  3. Update employees when changes prevent follow through.
  4. Apologize when you dropped a ball or didn’t follow through on a previous promise. If this is a habit for you, check to see if there is a skills deficit or a process problem, such as documenting or scheduling agreements on a calendar.
  5. Let your “yes” and “no” mean something. Stop saying “yes” just to end conversations.

Trust-buster #3 – Poor Listening

Listening takes a lot of energy. You have to distill the relevant from the irrelevant, and let’s face it, employees aren’t necessarily great at getting to the point. It’s easy to get hypnotized by the story and start multitasking, discounting, or nodding in agreement. And if you’re on a phone call or conference call, it’s tempting to check email or start working on something else the moment you feel bored. It’s even more difficult to listen when the stakes are high—when you disagree, or you feel angry. This is when it’s most important to do what I call “Radical Listening.”

Why listening is important

There’s an old saying, “When I talk, I know what I know; but when I listen, I know what I know, and I know what you know.” In difficult conversations, it’s easy to try to shut down or argue than to really listen. But winning an argument rarely wins you more trust. When you aren’t really listening it’s easy to make agreements you aren’t really prepared to keep and it’s likely you’ll miss something important that could eventually erode trust. In addition, you may miss the meta-message and other subtle cues that could be detrimental to your decision-making.

Trust Builders to Increase Listening

  1. Stop interrupting. Hold your tongue at the roof of your mouth. It’s easier for the other person to hear you once they feel they have been heard.
  2. Do not multi-task. Stop checking electronic communications. If you can’t focus at the moment, tell the truth and schedule a time when the other person has your undivided attention.
  3. Ask questions for clarification when you don’t agree or don’t understand.
  4. Notice how much time you are lecturing, preaching or talking versus just listening. Invite conversation by asking questions if you notice that you’ve been taking up too much air time.
  5. If your mind wanders, admit it. Say, “I got distracted. Could you repeat that?”


Many of us have difficulty solidifying ideas like trust-building, but when you take the idea, break it down into observable behaviors and business results, you can reverse-engineer any trust-buster and work on the skills and competencies to dramatically increase trust, drive growth, and reduce costly mistakes.


Editor’s note: One of the largest culture-related market studies in the world cites that culture is created and evolves in groups, and that leaders can impact culture with the strategies or approaches they use to lead their team as well as with the systems they implement. The report noted that an excellent place to start is with cultivating trust. If you lead or collaborate on transforming workplace culture, use this report supplement to guide your efforts. For details and download information, click here

About the Author

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Marlene Chism

Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker, and author of Stop Workplace Drama (Wiley 2011), No-Drama Leadership (Bibliomotion 2015), and 7 Ways to Stop Drama in Your Healthcare Practice  (Greenbranch 2018).