6 Strategies to Build Lasting Trust (Part 1)

There are two approaches to building trust: the fast track and the slow road. Together, they can create a bridge to powerful and meaningful relationships at work.

We’ve talked about how to build trust fast through vulnerability and reflecting back what people say. Today let’s consider how the slow road is different.

If your goal is to build deep and lasting trust over time, there are six habits you should begin to practice. In this post, we’ll look at the first three.


#1: Do what (people think) you said you would do.

There is a critical shift between “do what you said you would do” and “do what people think you said you would do,” and that shift makes all the difference in creating lasting trust.

“Do what you said you would do” is basic integrity. You’ve heard it before, and if you’re a good leader, you are already know that integrity is king. You likely believe that you’re doing a pretty good job in this area, because integrity is important to you on a personal level.

In fact, your integrity is so important to you, that you are probably quick to defend it whenever someone complains that you did not do what you said you would do. And that very act of self-defense undermines the trust you are trying to build (more on that in point #2).

Instead of defending your integrity (which puts the focus on you), defend the importance of the other person by doing what they thought you said you would do (which puts the focus on them).

I can have integrity all day long, but if others do not think I am doing what I said I would do, then my perceived integrity is in the toilet—and so is their trust in me. Integrity builds trust, but only when people see that integrity. If they thought you were going to deliver X, then deliver X—even if it hurts. If they thought you were going to be there, then be there—even if you have to change your schedule. If you can’t deliver, then offer a sincere apology and move to make it right (rather than explaining yourself).

You can practice this habit proactively by asking people what they heard you commit to and clarifying any miscommunication on the front end.


#2: Resist the urge to defend yourself from criticism.

Nothing undermines trust faster than defending yourself. Self-defense is the opposite of vulnerability, and it immediately communicates that I am more important than you. Self-defense says, “It’s more important for you to understand that I was right than it is for me to give you what you need.”

When people believe that they are not important to you, they absolutely will not trust you.

So, what should you do when you are criticized? If your goal is to build lasting trust, then you must choose to accept today’s discomfort for the sake of that goal. Lower your shield, back down from DefCon 4, and say something like, “I can see that I did not meet your expectations, and that has caused a problem. Would you tell me how you think it should have gone and how I can make it right?”

In the course of the conversation, you may earn the opportunity to explain your good intentions. But if your goal is to build lasting trust, then your first priority must be to understand the other person’s perspective. Only after they have seen evidence of that priority can you give an explanation without weakening the bridge of trust.


#3: Be physically present and available go to them.

You’ve heard that leaders are supposed to be more available. That’s a good trait, but it’s not enough to build lasting trust. When I’m available, you still have to come to me. It builds more trust when I take the initiative and go to you.

When I was president of a university in Africa, it always frustrated me for my staff to say, “We know you are busy…” as the reason that they did not talk to me. In my heart, I considered my staff to be of utmost importance to me, and I would willingly (and often) set aside other tasks to give attention to them. I considered my willingness and practice of being available to be evidence that they were important. But trust is not based on what I think of myself—it’s based on what you think of me.

Here’s the problem: going to the boss to ask for his/her time requires people to overcome the obstacle of speaking upwards. No matter how egalitarian your culture is, many people will experience some level of hesitation about talking to the boss.

As a leader, you can build tremendous trust by going to them and creating the opportunity for them to speak to you. The very act of you physically visiting their work station shows that you value them.

A similar practice applies when building trust with peers or those outside your company. When you go to them, you demonstrate the value of the relationship and create more trust.

Each of these habits shares a common assumption about trust. That assumption is simple: “We trust people who put our interests above their own.” When I believe that you sincerely consider my interests more important than your own, I will trust you to the moon and back. When you consistently demonstrate that priority over time, you will build lasting trust.

In the next post, I will explain the final three habits to build lasting trust.


Comment below to share what you do to build trust.



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