Trust is a necessary prerequisite of influence because it is the foundation of healthy relationships. Put simply, people are more likely to be influenced by someone they trust. On the other hand, the absence of trust creates resistance to change by creating doubt, uncertainty, and fear.
In my Fundamentals of Influencing Change at Work course, we talk about trust as a means of building influence, applying influence, and reducing resistance. Over time, common themes have come to light about how to build trust. When it comes down to it, to be trustworthy, you need to do, or really be, three key things.
None of these three things will surprise you. In fact, you likely learned them early in your childhood. You may not have recognized that these fundamental skills help you be a successful human because they build trust.
- Be Reliable
For people to trust you, they need to know they can count on you, and you are capable of doing your part. Therefore, be consistent, thus predictable. Demonstrate your competence. Follow through on your promises, saying “no” when you need to so you can stay true to your word. Take responsibility for what needs to be done. Maintain confidentiality. And above all, tell the truth and be transparent.
Trust is a funny thing. We build it over time by not breaking it. To that end, to be reliable, try not let things fall through the cracks, and don’t make excuses when they do. Avoid being hypocritical.
- Be Kind
To build trust, you need to be someone that others want to interact with, so be kind. Listen to understand others’ perspectives. Be considerate of others’ situations and experience. Be fair. Remember to say “please,” “thank you,” and “sorry.” Kindly tell people what they need to hear.
Of course, avoid being rude or mean. Don’t gossip about people. Don’t blame others when something goes wrong. Don’t make jokes at others’ expense. Control your temper.
- Be Generous
Trust is a two-way street, so you also need to trust others. Be generous with resources, information, and your time. Invite people to get involved in change and collaborate. Acknowledge others’ contributions. Advocate on their behalf. Model vulnerability and ask for feedback. Be authentic.
To avoid losing trust, don’t hoard or be over-protective. Avoid making unilateral decisions. Don’t lean on authority to influence someone.
Some of these may seem contradictory. For example, is it possible to be honest and kind when the truth hurts? How can I be generous with my time and still meet all my commitments? Not only is it possible to balance these three areas, but to be truly trustworthy, you must balance them. Neither the reliable jerk nor the unreliable saint is fully trustworthy.
Especially during times of organizational change, people need to believe that others will do the right thing and will do their part. They want to know they won’t be thrown under the bus when the going gets tough. Before we can help others to be trustworthy, however, first we need to be trustworthy ourselves.