Tips for Building Your Employees' Trust

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I’m new to my organization and I really want my staff to trust me. I know this takes time and work. Can you help me with some basics so that my team feels safe with me?

A: Trust is key to a productive working relationship. Building trust quickly will make you a better manager, and your team will be more eager to work with you. You’re correct to point out that building trust takes time and work, but these tips may help you hit the ground running.

If it’s not too late, tell your direct reports more about your background than is summarized on your official bio or was shared when your appointment was announced. This doesn’t mean you need to tell them everything about your personal life, but it would be worthwhile to share some stories about where you grew up, how many siblings you have, where you spent your summer vacations, or other details of your life that will humanize you to them. Share these stories in a lighthearted way and encourage your staff to share as well so that you can all get to know each other.

Let your staff know that you will always be honest with them, even when the news isn’t good, and be sure to follow through on that promise.

Let your staff know that you will always be honest with them, even when the news isn’t good, and be sure to follow through on that promise. When they experience your honesty, their trust in you will build.

On the other hand, nothing will break the trust you’ve carefully built up faster than a lack of honesty. There will be times when you have to hold back sensitive information, but you can still communicate honestly. For example, when a layoff is planned but not yet announced, you have to keep this information to yourself. But once the action is announced, show as much empathy as possible and do what you can to smooth the way for those who are affected—including the remaining members of the team.

When you occasionally make a mistake, always admit it and apologize. Many managers think this is a sign of weakness, but the opposite is true: Admitting mistakes helps your employees see you as human and encourages their trust.

Always treat your employees with respect, and give them credit when it is due. Leaders often get the credit for a team project, and when that happens you should take time to thank each person and recognize their efforts publicly.

One great way to develop trust is to ask for feedback on how you’re doing. This can be scary, but it’s powerful. Thank your team members for their honest appraisal, and when appropriate, change your behavior. When they see that you listen to them and respect their opinions, their trust in you will increase substantially.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected]

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