Building Credibility and Trust at Work

by Joan Lloyd

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How many bad experiences does it take to destroy trust? Just one. That’s why it’s so important to protect your reputation in your organization. Here are some thoughts to help you, as well as some and mistakes to avoid.

Share information candidly and completely
People who put their cards on the table and tell you what they know and what they want usually earn a reputation as someone who is trusted in the organization. If you aren’t straightforward and honest about what you know and what you think, it usually looks like you’re hiding something.

Even when you can’t share some piece of information, you can always explain why you can’t and when you will reveal it, if ever. People will accept that far more positively than silence or a coy reply. For example, during a recent merger, an employee asked a senior manager, “Will we lose our jobs?” His response was open and frank. He laid out the potential scenarios and promised the group that he would tell them information as soon as he heard it and he would be honest with them. While you might think that frankness caused employees to run to the want ads, they didn’t. Instead, employees walked away with more trust and respect for him and the organization. Rumors quieted, and most people decided to wait for him to tell them what was going to happen next.

Be open to the ideas of others
“Sure, I want your feedback about the project,” a manager told me recently. After I shared my observations, she launched into a lengthy explanation and justification about why she had done what she did and why my perceptions were wrong. Instead of clearing up my “misperception,” her defensiveness only reinforced it.

Even folks, who think they are open-minded, often are closed when someone else’s idea conflicts with their own views. Not only do you have to solicit the ideas of others and draw them out, you have to stand back objectively and look at them, especially if they differ from your own.

Stand up for what you believe in
Years ago, I had a colleague who believed that if he kept his head down and saluted anything his boss said, he’d be his boss’ trusted soldier. He was dismayed to see others around him get promoted, while his career languished. If you stand up for what you think is right and you deliver your stance with respect and tact, you will build influence and trust in the organization. As many senior executives will tell you, “I can count on one hand the number of people I can count on to stand up and honestly tell me what they think of my idea.”

Be responsive and follow through on commitments
If you ask someone which trait comes to mind when they think of building trust, they will probably say, “be dependable.” Yet, many people are not responsive when it comes to voice mails, e-mails and employee and colleagues’ requests. “I’m too busy,” becomes their mantra—and their excuse. If you have trouble keeping up, find a system or a person to help you. What’s worse, if you agree to do an action item, you must deliver or make other arrangements with the person to whom you promised. In the modern organization, just like in the days of the old West, “My word is my promise,” better be your code of honor.

Use facts and data—not assumptions and intuition
Building trust isn’t just about your interpersonal reputation, it’s about how you make decisions about the work itself. You will be trusted—and given more freedom and responsibility—if you can be relied upon to do your homework. While intuition is a great asset, it shouldn’t be the only tool in your kit. When you state a fact or a position, you will earn trust if you can back it up with data.

Provide feedback to others directly
We’re all tempted to talk about other people’s behavior. It’s a normal part of the human condition, but when you become known as a backstabber or a bad-mouther, your career is in trouble. It can be very difficult to speak face-to-face with someone about a conflict, but in the end, you typically win respect and trust because you had the courage to be direct.

Admit to mistakes and have a plan to fix them
Admitting vulnerability can be a good thing. We are all human and admitting to a mistake will have a better outcome than trying to hide it or defend it. If you are caught trying to cover up a mistake, you may never regain trust.

Solicit feedback and act on it
Only strong, confident people have the guts to solicit feedback, thank the messenger and then take steps to act on it. If you develop a reputation for accepting feedback for personal improvement, your credibility will grow, especially if you are a manager. But if you ask for feedback and then don’t act—or retaliate—people will never trust you with their opinions again.

Preserve confidentiality
This may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how people forget this no-brainer. If someone comes to you and asks you to keep something quiet, you must either oblige them or tell them why it’s illegal or impossible. Loose lips have sunk more than one career ship.

Joan Lloyd has a solid track record of excellent results. Her firm, Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding. This includes executive coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized leadership training, conflict resolution between teams or individuals, internal consulting skills training for HR professionals and retreat facilitation. Clients report results such as: behavior change in leaders, improved team performance and a more committed workforce.

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