Hamilton Lindley Building Trust at Work

I was asked by a consultant what I thought about a guy that we will call Bill for anonymity’s sake. I told him that I struggled to trust Bill. The consultant was surprised. After all, Bill kept his commitments. He didn’t act deceitfully. I shared that Bill didn’t practice what he preached. Bill was condescending. Bill didn’t apologize for being wrong. I did not recognize it before, but that discussion taught me that reliability and integrity don’t earn a trustworthy reputation on their own. They will get you labeled as dependable, but trust requires more. 

It is essential to keep and earn the trust of your coworkers. It takes a lot to gain trust. Recent studies show that there are four ways to create trust at work. First, treat others and their work with respect. Second, announce your values and live up to them. Third, know when to protect confidences and know when to be vulnerable. Fourth, develop a feeling of harmony across your business. 

Treat others and their work with dignity.

Treating both the contribution and the contributor as important is vital. We trust colleagues who are gracious and regard what we do with dignity. 

Bill eroded trust by refocusing conversations on very basic issues that were not relevant to the discussion. He was condescending in a tone that made others feel disrespected. 

Create opportunities for others to shine. Find ways for others to show their talent. Suggest workers show important projects to more extensive audiences in your business. Connect people with hopes to grow into new roles with others who could help advance their dream. Earn a reputation as someone who exalts other’s contributions so they are celebrated and seen across your company. 

Be a safe place to fail. We need dignity most when we fail. The people we trust most are the ones we feel no need to hide from. Accountability should still keep a person’s self-respect intact. Balance communicating your dissatisfaction with remaining an ally. Show what you can do to help them get better. 

Be who you say you are.

We all have a set of values. For example, we may announce we value empathy, but if we ask “How is my car?” when we hear someone smashed into our new car, instead of “Was everyone okay?” our loyalty to empathy appears rather thin. We are judged by how our actions and words match. 

Represent your established values. You should verbalize your values so others know what to see from you. But your good intentions don’t count. One of the problems with Bill was that he regularly praised the value of teamwork. But he quickly became irritable with others’ updates and was sarcastic. Although Bill may not have intended it, his efforts bully others and blocked them from cooperating. 

Your values serve as a standard that others use to measure you. When you haven’t explained them, we assume. When you have explained them, be vigilant about showing them. 

Acknowledge any gaps in behavior. When you have violated one of your values, identify where you have fallen short.It would have helped Bill to apologize to those who witnessed the divergence from his stated values. Taking responsibility and showing humility can multiply trust. 

Balance transparency with discretion.

One of the keys to trust is understanding when to protect confidences and when to be vulnerable. You gain trust when you withhold information when you are transparent about why you must keep a secret. You also create trust when you reveal information that helps people learn what you think and who you are. Here’s how to strike the balance.

Set and keep information boundaries. Sharing information about your life, challenges, family, social life, and outside interests creates a better relationship between you and others. Generously share work information. Don’t treat it as a power source. You are a trusted source of data when you give updates about projects. Lastly, make sure you keep secrets. Don’t engage in gossip. People who have trusted you with delicate information must never feel that their trust was misplaced.

Invite disagreement and feedback. Encourage others’ opinions. Regularly soliciting pushback will improve the quality of your ideas. If you have a quiet group, invite people to write down ideas on paper and pick them at random to discuss. The anonymity may help those who don’t feel psychologically safe.  

You should also provide dissent. Trustworthy people speak their minds. Don’t let temporary discomfort keep you from revealing the truth that will help your company or employees grow. 

Build bridges that unify.

Our world is fragmented. Working remotely adds to that fragmentation. In politics, we are quick to take sides and echo those who see the world as we do. Our companies will feel disjointed as we go back to “work” after the pandemic. Those who create harmony across their company will be far more trusted than those who continue division.

Turn rivals into helpers. A company’s most essential work crosses departmentalboundaries. Regrettably, these boundaries create rivals because of competing priorities or accumulated distrust. Those who build alliances across these lines earn higher trust from their own teams and others. The determination to serve with others instead of remaining hostile toward them shows to trust those who may have struggled to trust you. 

Be fascinated by others to build inclusion. We trust those who make us feel safe enough to be ourselves. Be a cheerleader for the success of others. People need to know you care about the things they care about. And the more you learn about what’s important to others, especially people different than you, the less likely you are to misjudge them, securing greater levels of their trust.


Trust is an essential work currency. We can’t assume that we have the trust of others just because we think we haven’t done anything to violate it. We must keep and earn the trust of our coworkers every day. Start creating a trustworthy reputation if you want a career of great impact. Imagine a coworker is sharing a story about you with their spouse. What story are they’re telling?