How To Build Trust at Work

I believe that, during the Great Recession, the ability to trust was damaged. I recently received a note from a reader asking, “How can you hire employees you can trust when you can’t even trust people in general?”

Pew Research recently released a survey indicating that Millennials are less trusting than other generations. Only 19% said “most people can be trusted”. The Pew Research had lots of interesting findings and you can see the full report here.

This poses some concerns for business. Trust is the foundation on which companies build relationships with employees and customers. We buy things from people we trust. Creating a trusting work environment is essential. So it brings us back to the question above: How do we create trust with people at work?

IMHO, there’s a difference between giving trust versus earning trust. Some people we trust unconditionally and others need to earn our trust. From a training perspective, it might be possible to build activities into training that allow people to earn each other’s trust.

I got my hands on a copy of “The Leadership Training Activity Book” by Lois Hart and Charlotte Waisman. You can get a copy at the SHRM Store. In it, was an activity designed to build trust. The essence of the activity is a participant, while wearing a blindfold, would walk around a room using only non-verbal cues from another participant.

Obviously, this activity requires a huge safety consideration. Depending upon the audience, it might be possible to do the activity with something other than walking around such as writing or drawing something. After doing the activity, you can have participants choose new partners, so everyone has a turn being blindfolded.

The real value is in the debrief discussion:

  1. Since you were blindfolded, could you tell your partner’s identity?
  2. What did your partner do that made the task easy or difficult?
  3. Did their actions change your feelings for them? 

This reader question got me thinking that we can’t just leave trust up to chance. When hiring, we need to ask questions during the interview process:

Employees today have to figure out how to work with people they don’t particularly like. They also have to handle working with people they may/may not trust. It’s not acceptable to say, “I don’t trust them so I don’t have to do my job.” Employee relationships and teamwork will suffer, and ultimately so will the business.

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It doesn’t happen overnight, but taking steps to build trust is important. How do you create trust in the work environment?