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How to Build Employee Trust and Engagement: Trust Is a Two-Way Street

0247 - Value (1).pngEver wonder what it is that causes you to trust some people but not others?

As much as leaders would like to have a sure-fire way to measure trustworthiness and an equivalent standard to gauge if and how much we should trust others, there just isn’t a simple formula. Trust is something we feel more than we think.

So how do leaders build employee trust and engagement?

Download: Employee Engagement Checklist

How do leaders build employee trust and engagement?

Some would say that employee trust and engagement must be earned. But that, too, suggests there could be a formulaic approach. How many times and in what specific ways must someone perform in order to be worthy of your trust? Since we know that what we require is not the same with every individual, the notion of being able to earn trust seems a little arbitrary.

Some would say that they trust because they read people well or have a certain gut instinct. That hardly seems fair. What happens when someone who exhibits trustworthy behavior doesn’t pass the gut check?

At the heart of trust is confidence. The very definition of trust ties the two together. Trust is the “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.” So I guess the real question ought to be this: what causes us to have confidence in some people but not in others?

A nice long history of integrity, strength and ability would help. So when we’re dealing with someone new, should we just wait for a few years before we trust them? Let’s turn it around to see how it feels when we ask this another way. Should new people that you meet and new people you work with wait a few years and observe you over time before they place their trust in you?

Suddenly, the idea of earning trust and proving yourself trustworthy seems a bit restrictive and unnecessary, doesn’t it? Because, of course, you can be trusted. You take pride in your integrity, your reliability and your follow through. You work hard to never let others down. The idea that someone may not trust you probably rankles you at least a little bit.

Employees Will Mirror a Lack of Trust

Other people feel exactly the same way. When you withhold your trust and expect them to earn it by proving themselves over time, it feels insulting and demeaning, even disrespectful. The response to not being given trust is to not give trust. That’s the law of reciprocity at work, otherwise known as “what goes around comes around.”

You know what happens next. Since they don’t trust you – YOU, of all people who is supremely trustworthy! – then you respond by pulling back even more. You find yourself saying things like “I don’t know about her. She seems sort of cagey…” or “I can’t put my finger on it, I just don’t trust him.”

How Do You Break the Stalemate?

So we’re left with a dilemma. If they won’t trust you until you trust them, and you won’t trust them until they’ve earned it… And their lack of trust somehow validates your lack of trust… well, it’s not likely that a mutual trust is ever going to form in this relationship.

On the other hand, there are relationships in your life that have formed quickly and easily. The trust was there right from the start. You didn’t hold back. There was no mandatory holding time. No one, not you and not the other party, had to earn trust. It was just inherent in the relationship. How did that happen? Was that the gut instinct at its finest?

The Secret to Building Trust With Employees?

Or maybe it was something else. Maybe it was as simple as this. You extended a little bit of trust and it was reciprocated.

You smiled and the smile was returned. You disclosed a little bit of personal information, displaying trust and vulnerability as you did. A little sharing was returned to you.

Or you allowed someone to help you, letting them know that you believed in their ability and accepting what they had to offer. You opened up to trust and, by doing so, you paved the way for a relationship (founded in trust) to grow.

Trust is a two-way street.

You don’t trust until you’ve been trusted. There’s give and take on both sides, a mutual exchange. And it has to begin somewhere, so why not with you?

You may be thinking “yeah, but…” right about now. You’re right. There are people who have already violated your trust. You’ve been burned. You are reluctant to trust those individuals again. Be sure to check back next week when the CONNECT! Blog post will directly address the “yeah buts.”

In the meantime, extend a little trust to someone who hasn’t broken your trust and doesn’t deserve the holding time either. The cost to you of denying trust without cause may be greater than you think.

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CONNECT 2 Lead graphicAs a leader, it’s absolutely essential for you to be trustworthy and to trust others. Learn more about the 12 Dimensions of Trust and how you can CONNECT2Lead. And subscribe to our weekly CONNECT2Lead Newsletter for special offers, content, and blog posts.