Trust has always been important in the workplace – among individuals, departments, functions and hierarchy. It’s now more important than ever as uncertainty is rampant in many aspects of both work and life. HR can both role model and lead the creation of a high trust culture. Anyone can impact trust – positively and negatively – through simple (maybe not all easy) daily behaviours.
What is Trust
According to Collins dictionary, trust is your belief that others are honest and sincere and will not deliberately do anything to harm you. This definition encapsulates both trust and psychological safety described by Forbes. They describe trust as you are offering others the benefit of the doubt when you are being vulnerable. Whereas they say psychological safety is you believing others are extending the benefit of the doubt to you when you’re taking a risk.
A simple example of trust in the workplace is people doing what they say they are going to do. A colleague commits to doing a specific task for a project by a specific time and then does it.
A more nuanced example of trust is being able to disagree with a senior leader about a decision even in a group setting without the risk to your career or being ridiculed.
Benefits of Trust in the Workplace
There are obvious and less obvious benefits of high trust which apply in any relationship, not just those in the workplace. These benefits focus on the workplace:
- Having different and dissenting opinions openly shared leads to better decision making.
- Pointing out unconscious bias comments, patterns and decisions e.g. challenging potentially racist or sexist comments in a discussion, resulting in equality, diversity and inclusivity.
- Transferring your efforts or resources to another groups’ project to serve the organization’s greater goals.
- Improving mental wellbeing as emotions and stress are shared so better retention, fewer grievances, less absenteeism.
- Feeling safe so energy can go towards doing the work rather than manipulating the political environment.
- Taking risks and speaking out leads to more creativity, new ideas and better solutions.
How to Demonstrate Trust in the Workplace
These ideas apply to HR leaders, leaders across the organization and most people interacting with others in general.
- Listen – really listen to people. As Stephen Covey said decades ago, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”¹ Many people listen to respond thereby they often stop actively listening as they start to formulate their response. In my coach training listening was one of the first things we were taught. How to listen at many levels – to what the other person says, and doesn’t say, to their body language and energy, to your own intuition about their feelings. Don’t listen for listening sake, listen to learn, adapt and understand.
- Get curious – pause your own thoughts and potentially your defence mechanisms to understand someone else’s perspective. Ask questions to understand. A specific action for HR is to learn intimately about the business. This will help you position HR policies to support the business needs and to step truly into their shoes when you consider your initiatives and language. Encourage others to be curious too.
- Interrogate your own mindset – what are your feelings about risk, fear of failure, fear of looking stupid and making a mistake. Adopt a more supportive mindset for yourself, changing your internal dialogue to “if I make a mistake I’ll at least know and will learn from it.” Ask your team to become more self-aware too.
- Show you trust – take a risk and show vulnerability. Risk making a mistake or getting it wrong. Acknowledge when you don’t know something. Give your time, support or resources to “competing” initiatives. Be generous to others verbally, publicly and even use the words “I trust you” when warranted. Give others the benefit of the doubt.
- Act with integrity – do what you say you are going to do. If circumstances change communicate quickly and gain alignment to the impact of those changes. In the hardest HR situations act with the upmost integrity and with compassion. Examples are not tolerating gossip, or blame, any negativity in fact by calling it out respectfully in the moment. Not laughing at others or dismissing their ideas.
- Ask for feedback – and then listen and take it on board. This will show people you are engaged, care about the impact you have. This is also a great measure of how much trust there is in you or the organization. People will give helpful, constructive feedback when they trust you. Feedback might be vague or overly complimentary when they don’t feel safe to share.
- Encourage healthy conflict – disagreement and conflict are not bad especially when done respectfully and with the purpose of getting to the best solution, not just to ‘win.’ Practice asking questions that challenge someone’s idea in a way that shows respect. Think about debate rather than win/lose or judging right/wrong. Healthy debate leads to more thorough investigation and understanding.
- Own your mistakes – admit if you make a mistake or get something wrong. You can then talk about the learnings from those situations. This shows humility, builds trust and makes it safe for others to admit their mistakes. This means things don’t get hidden and continual improvement becomes possible.
What would be possible by increasing the trust in your team? The trust between people across different teams and functions?
Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you could improve your effectiveness as a leader by building more trust.
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