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Are You Trusted At Work? 12 Tips For Building Professional Credibility


"Learning to trust is one of life's most difficult tasks" – Isaac Watts

A topic that often comes up in my sessions is how to build more trust at work.

From clients eager to demonstrate credibility fast in their new role to those desperate to build rapport with deeply mistrustful colleagues, a key takeaway is that trust represents major moolah in any professional setting.

Like any other currency, you only realise how valuable trust is once you've lost it – as happened early on in my own career when I was put on a performance management plan without warning. 

With trust, I'm not referring to self-confidence but rather the trustworthiness or credibility that others assign to us.

Such trustworthiness depends on two components: how we present ourselves and our track record – in other words, our behaviour and expertise. 

Decent behaviour translates into demonstrating the best of intentions and acting with integrity, while your track record means doing a great job and delivering results. 

These four components – intent, integrity, competence and results – are the essential building blocks of trust.

For trust to develop, you must demonstrate all four components in any situation. 

What makes trust so important?   

In The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey (junior) talks about so-called having trust accounts.

Like a bank account, each interaction with a colleague or client becomes a transaction that either deposits or withdraws funds from your trust account. 

Positive interactions, such as keeping promises, showing respect, or being likeable, will add funds, while missing deadlines, acting dishonestly, or being the office's town newspaper may lead to a withdrawal of trust.

The higher the balance in your trust piggy bank, the more dividends you'll reap in the form of process efficiencies. 

These efficiencies happen because, as a result of the goodwill and faith you've built among your professional stakeholders, you're given permission to take greater responsibility with less oversight while bypassing lengthy internal control mechanisms. 

In Covey's words: "When a trust account is high, communication will be easy, effective and instant." 

Or, as leadership guru Warren Bennis said, "Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organisations to work."

Conversely, when your trust account is low, rest assured that you'll soon receive additional oversight and training. 

Building or re-building your trust balance depends on how well you consistently demonstrate all four building blocks of trust (intent, integrity, capability & results), which I'll describe in more detail below.  

The importance of character   

With character, Covey refers to your true nature – the ethics and principles you abide by and your underlying motives.

There's a distinction, however, between personality and character. 

Your personality relates to how you act, which depends on fairly observable traits like extraversion, discipline-driven, outcome-focused, inspiration-driven, etc.  

Your character, on the other hand, is harder to observe because it reflects why you act the way you do and who you show up as. 

To understand someone's character, you need to look at what Covey calls their intent and their integrity.

Intent relates to how transparent you are in communicating the rationale behind your decisions and whether people can build a good rapport with you. 

For example, if your interactions are personable and warm, and you take a genuine interest in the other person's well-being, you're much more likely to add funds to your trust account. 

Integrity, however, refers to qualities such as honesty, fairness, and authenticity – each of which helps to create a sense of psychological safety for those around you. 

Authenticity and vulnerability go hand in hand, with the caveat that trust is only bestowed on those who demonstrate good judgment and timing when disclosing personal details and opinions (See tip #10).

When in doubt, err towards non-disclosure.

Track record matters

Alongside your character, the balance in your trust fund also depends on how competent you're perceived to be, as well as your past and present results. 

Competence is the sum total of all your skills, knowledge, and experiences; it's also often the only trust component people can rely on when they're looking to hire you or when you've just started a new role. 

Without constant attention and updating, your competence will stagnate.

Unless you're committed to constant professional growth and staying ahead of developments in your field, you might start to make wrong judgements and tactical errors, which can lead to withdrawals from your trust account.  

A competent and upstanding leader at work is punctual, dedicated and accountable; someone who's not afraid to admit and correct their mistakes publicly.

I've used 'perceived' a few times because optics are indeed important.

Contrary to what you might be telling yourself, too much humility and playing small when demonstrating your track record rarely serve you at work.

Indeed, you can't expect colleagues, clients, and leadership to trust you and give you more responsibilities if they don't know about your past and current achievements.

Research suggests that those who project a naturally self-assured manner are more likely to be trusted than those who don't, regardless of their competence.

Of course, riding on the tailcoats of your past successes is not enough; achieving new results in a dependable and predictable way is equally important.

12 tips for building or re-building trust fast

#1 No more white lies

It's tempting to tell the odd fib whenever it looks like we won't deliver on a promise or are busy downing margaritas instead of 'working from home'. But truth equals trust, so imagine the long-term damage to your credibility when you get found out. Being honest and direct makes your trust account accrue fast, as does owning up to your mistakes. It shows character and positions you as a courageous person.

#2 Break taboos 

In The Speed of Trust, Covey discusses how tackling uncomfortable conversations or situations head-on often yields significant trust dividends. Whether it's delivering some tough feedback during someone's performance review, communicating an impending lay-off, or setting clear boundaries with clients, treating people like the adults they are – especially when done with empathy – will immediately grow your trust account. 

#3 Don't a d*ck

Doing your job well doesn't have to come at the expense of positive interactions with subordinates or colleagues. Putting aside the handful of successful Gordon Ramsay types in this world, ars*holes usually underperform because they lack allies. They fall short on intent and integrity, which means they're often mistrusted. So, give credit to whom credit is due and create an environment where people feel safe to make and own up to mistakes.  

#4 Listen before talking

When in conversation, we're often too busy thinking about what to say next to fully take in what's being said. If you struggle to focus when someone is speaking, create a movie in your mind of what the other person is saying while they're talking. Let them finish and then paraphrase (but not parrot) what you think you heard them say. It's a great way to check if you correctly understood while showing you actively processed their words – a beautiful way to earn trust.  

#5 Apologise  

Cringe, I know, but acknowledging and apologising for your mistakes is necessary for repairing trust. There's an art to apologising, and a good apology usually covers six aspects. These include showing regret—which, from a trust perspective, we can think of as showing character in the form of humility—and sharing a plan to fix the issue—which, in turn, demonstrates competence.

#6 Show off  

As I said earlier, who cares how amazing you are if nobody knows about it? Don't assume your achievements speak for themselves – in reality, they're pretty mute. Give credit to whom credit is due, even (and especially) if you're the one who deserves to be credited. Nobody likes a show-off, but research shows that self-assured confidence is a great trust builder. Those who manage to pull it off authentically (without faking, arrogance or bravado) are often awarded a higher social status, regardless of their competence.

#7 Be less wishy-washy

Camouflaging your needs and being vague about what you want creates confusion, which, in turn, breeds uncertainty and distrust. Be as transparent as is appropriate (which is often more than you think) when communicating your expectations and feedback. Practise being more explicit in your language. Tell it like it is. Again, not in that Gordon Ramsay-abrasive sort of way because being direct doesn't equal being rude.

#8 Trust others first

This one's for all the micro-managers and control freaks reading this. Covey states that one of the best ways to gain someone's trust is to show you dare to trust others. Remind yourself that when you trust someone, they'll almost certainly try to rise to the occasion, but the opposite is also true. So, take the plunge and notice how people will subconsciously start acting with more confidence towards you in return. 

#9 Say nay often

Being nice is helpful when you're trying to build trust, but it's not nearly as beneficial as being authentic. Let your values and principles take centre stage when making decisions and communicating. Choose being respected over being liked and (as per tip #7) tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Communicating clear boundaries around your time and protecting your yeses also demonstrate clear intent and character. 

#10 Practise better judgement

Nobody will trust you if you consistently make poor choices at work or in life. Likewise, nobody cares about your results if you consistently show poor judgment in how you achieve those results. Your judgment is important because it relates to both character and competence. To practise good judgment, you need to find a good balance between emotional and rational decision-making. Be open to taking on different perspectives. Learn to listen attentively to others, but always interpret critically. 

#11 Trust yourself

How can you expect others to trust you if you don't trust yourself? If your behaviour doesn't match the individual you want to be, you'll always be questioning yourself. It'll drain your confidence. Do a little inventory of where you're on each of those four trust-building blocks in relation to your current role. Decide who you want to be instead, and then identify some clear actions you need to create greater alignment between your character and your behaviour. 

#12 Make accountability fair

Trust develops when everyone takes ownership of the outcomes of the choices they make. But neither party will trust the other without a clear sense of fairness and objectivity.  Get clear on what's expected of you, and be transparent about the standards you expect from others, too. By putting in place objective systems for evaluating your (and their) competence and results, you'll create the psychological safety and predictability needed to facilitate trust.

Before you bow out

Sorry to interrupt, but

I send out one short email at the end of each month with a few practical tips on how to develop a more meaningful and exciting life and career.

You'll also be the first to find out about my next group coaching programme and upcoming retreats.

I send out one short email at the end of each month with a few practical tips on how to develop a more meaningful and exciting life and career.

You'll also be the first to find out about my next group coaching programme and upcoming retreats.