The importance of trust and the impact your actions have on the relationship between yourself and your co-workers is something I’ve written a fair bit about in the past. Taking this a little bit further (cause when am I satisfied leaving a topic 110% beaten to death… #email) I wanted to talk about the more nebulous “how” of trust establishment.

There are a hundred and one articles written on trust and trust establishment all over the internet (It might be closer to 270M actually, based on google’s results at the time of writing). I read about half of those while I was trying to figure out what I should be including in this particular blog post. It’s funny how as you start going through all of them they all kind of blur together and end up saying basically the same thing:

Do what you say, and say what you intend to do.

or even as vague as

Be trustworthy.

Good one internet … good one…

Once you get past the euphoria of drinking from the well of infinite knowledge that is “The internet”, you might end up feeling a little empty. I know I did. I knew that this was something that isn’t just a simple “A and then B” scenario or a checklist you can follow, but something a bit more fluid, something that requires a particular finesse, something that can’t really be taught. Or can it?

The same types of ideas all crossed my mind when I was thinking about developing the feedback approach I’ve written about on multiple occasions, or even the “If no one is looking are you still a leader” article, and many of the same concepts begin to show themselves.

You can come back to the same Simon Sinek quote regarding trust and how

Simply doing everything you’ve said you’re going to do doesn’t mean people are going to trust you, it simply means you’re reliable.

We all have an inherent feeling of what trust is. We all sort of collectively agree on what things do and don’t constitute being trustworthy, and yet so often there are situations, in both social and business settings that result in two parties completely missing the boat on each other and ending up feeling like they were completely let down. Resulting in the exact opposite of what you wanted.

In an attempt to prevent this exact situation from coming about, I pitched the idea of pulling together other people’s approaches from the internet and instead focused on the types of things I do on a regular basis. I ended up landing on a simple set of three progressively more intimate activities that (generally) lead to a trusting and balanced foundation for my work relationships.

I wondered if codifying these activities would make it feel like my behaviour was no longer genuine, or if by applying a formula it cheapened the relationships I had already established. I eventually decided that no, it wouldn’t / it wasn’t. Firstly, I didn’t even realize there was a method to my madness while developing these thoughts, and secondly, the spirit of what I was doing was still rooted in a genuine desire to do the right thing and create a bond between myself and the people I work with / for.

When you break it all right down, I’ve found that most of this is based on establishing positive communication and following through on expectations. Easy right? I think so, here’s the A, B, Cs and 1, 2, 3s of trust establishment as I see it:


Creating a connection with someone founded on trust when you’ve just been introduced to  them isn’t often the first thing we think about. Typically this takes time, effort, and energy to make something happen. If the relationship you’re looking to cultivate is work-based well now you’ve added the complexity of a mandatory or imposed set of restrictions on top of the usual social challenges. Luckily, there are some things you can do to facilitate this entire process.

One of the first things I look to do when conducting that first meeting is look for an opportunity to provide something to the other person. It doesn’t matter terribly what it is so long as it’s genuinely given and comes with no expectation of anything in return. The monetary value of the thing isn’t really important, and more often than not I’m actually looking to give something with little to no value. An idea, for example, a cool website I frequent, the location of a great restaurant, some knowledge of a work related process which the individual isn’t aware of are all good examples. The actual thing matters less than the fact that you provide it and provide it in a timely manner. This is where ‘say what you do and do what you say’ kind of matters. The most important thing in my mind is that you aren’t responding to a request, but instead responding to a need they weren’t aware was even there.

To further demonstrate this point, I wanted to link this youtube video I was introduced to by a colleague and found some of the points they made particularly relevant to this discussion (take note of the waiter example provided early on in this video):


The next two points are a bit more esoteric in terms of how to go about accomplishing them. My hope is that once you’ve been armed with the knowledge of their existence, you can anticipate what it is you should be doing and more readily deal with the situations that require them.

It may not be right away, it might come at a funny hour of the day, or it might come at a time when you’re absolutely slammed at work. Whenever the time, there will be a point in your newly fostered connection with someone that they’re going to need something. I’ve found that time and time again, one of the best things you can do to dramatically increase the level of trust someone puts in you, is respond to these requests as immediately as humanly possible.

There’s the old saying about first impressions which I’m sure you’re all aware of, and it holds true here as well. There’s a dramatic difference in the perceptions people have of you when you ensure you’re available to respond to this very first request in a timely manner. Keep in mind, this isn’t to say you need to solve whatever problem they’re bringing to your attention, or immediately write them a research paper they’ve asked you to provide, or what have you. The simple act of responding (quickly) to the request triggers a powerful, positive response in the person who sent it.

Your team member is providing you with an opportunity here to prove yourself, don’t waste it! Really this comes down to you sending the message to them: “You’re important and I want you to know that I’m interested, invested, and prepared to support you when you ask for it.”


This last point really relies on your ability to actively listen, and more importantly, remember. Dale Carnegie has been quoted many times for saying:

There is no sweeter sound to any person’s ear than the sound of their own name …

While I agree with the sentiment, I also think that there is no sweeter food for the soul than to know someone is thinking about you when you aren’t with them. As a leader of any kind, proving to your team that you’re thinking about them even when you aren’t together is one of the most noble things you can do to prove their value to you.

The next time you get together with a member of your team, prepare something you know they’ll need or appreciate even before they’ve asked for it. The equity you’ll gain through this one, potentially small, act will pay dividends for a very long time. Sure this could all be written off as some ramblings of a nerd waxing poetic, but time and time again I’ve seen a discernible difference in the depth of trust you can develop in relationships both inside and outside of the workplace.

Michael Lopp has a fantastic discussion about active listening and giving some of his most precious commodity (time) to his team. Focusing on this basically free technique to connect with his people allows him to keep his fingers on the pulse of what they need, often before they know it themselves (it can be found here). I love the premise of his 1:1s. I especially like how dedicated he is to keeping his commitment to his team to meet. Honestly, if you don’t give your people the chance to connect with you, when did you expect it to happen? Oh, maybe during that annual meeting you scheduled to divulge upon them some sacred knowledge related to their performance that they weren’t aware of already … *cough* no … that’s not likely… but, I digress.

The point here is that the initial building blocks of trust can be laid down early and fairly easily, but it’s the continued commitment to proving yourself worthy of someone else’s trust on a regular basis that really allows you to level up.

Take the time to find opportunities to give your team something they’ve told you they need, respond to their requests promptly, and commit yourself to anticipating and positioning yourself to support them before they even know they need it. That’s where the real trust is built, the rest of it is just proving you’re reliable.


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