5 Essential Steps for Building—and Maintaining—Trust in the Workplace

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Trust in the workplace is a fragile thing. It's also essential for cultivating and maintaining positive working relationships. So how do you ensure that your company's culture is one of honesty and open communication?
Building trust take conscious effort on the part of all employees, but you can only control your actions. If you model good behavior, you're taking the first step toward creating a postive work environment. Here are five ways you can develop trust in the office.
1. Help your employees grow.
Part of being a good leader is providing your employees with opportunities to advance in their careers. If you're a manager, support your employees by giving them the chance to demonstrate their strengths. That involves delegating responsibilities and supporting your team in terms of both group projects and individual responsibiities. Take an interest in the individual growth of each team member. You might, for instance, discuss a team member's personal goals and aspirations and give her work projects that support those ambitions.
2. Avoid gossip.
Work gossip can be hard to resist. It's also responsible for a lot of broken trust among colleagues. No matter how much you may want to hear about an office affair or an employee who's about to get fired, do your best to rise above the fray. Talking about coworkers behind their backs often gets back to the subjects as well as other employees and managers. You'll end up looking worse than the subject of the gossip, since you perpetuated a rumor.
Building employee trust and contributing to a positive work environment means keeping private matters private and extending others the same courtesy. Does that mean you can't have friends in the workplace? Of course not! However, it's better to build friendships with coworkers based on something positive, such as shared interests and values, rather than something negative—gossiping about someone else's embarrassment or misfortune.
3. Keep others informed.
Another trust killer is secrecy. While not all employees can be involved in every decision a leader and company makes, being as transparent as possible will contribute to a positive work environment.
If a company-wide decision is on the horizon, such as a merger or massive layoff, be honest. Vague reassurances will only contribute to a lack of trust and lower employee engagement, since people won't know what they can believe. As difficult as these conversations might be, it's better to be open and honest rather breaking the trust of your employees.
4. Develop positive relationships with colleagues.
Whether you're a CEO or an intern, your relationships with your colleagues matter. In fact, they can make or break your career.
Develop trusting relationships with other people. That means giving them reasons to trust you by taking measures like offering praise when they receive promotions or deliver an amazing presentation and pitching in to help them finish projects without demanding credit.
Be willing to trust others, too. The bedrock of communication and team building is a willingness to believe in the actions and integrity of other people. If you're a manager, that might mean believing an employee when she says she's going to finish a project by a certain deadline and not checking in on her constantly to make sure she's on track. Trusting a colleague could mean helping out with an assignment without needing special praise or acknowledgement.
5. Listen to others.
A large part of building mutual trust is listening to what others tell you. If someone comes to you with a concern, acknowledge the issue, and work with her to develop a solution. If there's not an immediate solution available, simply listening can help her feel validated.
If it's a concern about something you said or did, accept responsibility for your actions. Explain the reasoning behind what happened without getting defensive. The situation will only escalate if you dismiss your colleague's perspective and feelings.
Taking steps toward building and sustaining trust conributes to a healthier work environment for everyone. Modeling positive behavior can only contribute to a more supportive office culture—and will make you a stronger and more professional employee.