Stop ‘telling it like it is’: Five ways to establish real trust in business


A lot of people confuse trustworthy with authentic.

They appear to be the same qualities, in the sense that a trustworthy person tends not to put up a facade – what you see is definitely what you get. Unfortunately, there’s any number of prominent public and company figures purporting to be the real deal – inflated like dirigibles, professing to “tell it like it is”.

This so-called authenticity is as useful for the importance of trust as trying to clean silverware with tomato sauce. Think of “retail” politicians – the ones who turn up at community fundraisers and barbeque a sausage, or kiss a baby. Is that authentic? Can they be trusted?

Trust is built over time and results

Trust does not need to advertise itself, bombard with unsolicited text messages or wear an Akubra.  If it does, you can pretty well guarantee the opposite outcome. Trust is what so many of society’s institutions are built on – resulting from years and layers of argument, testing, iteration, starting afresh, new rules, more debate, and so on.

When we drink water from a tap, we trust that it is potable; when we buy food, we trust that it has been prepared and stored to stringent hygiene standards; when we seek medical help, we expect some degree of treatment that will help us to recover. Trust is strongly allied with regulations and standards – if we didn’t have the latter, we’d be guessing the directions and daily life would be considerably more chaotic.

You might have a colleague or two constantly proclaiming their reliability and trustworthiness. Maybe they are, but why the constant drawing of attention to this fact?  Isn’t it a little suss, in the same way that some celebrities continually affirm their love for their partner?  And what if pronouncements aren’t the solution?

How is trust established?

1. Do things well and on time.

So what you’ve said you’ll do but also do the research and don’t “prevent the evidence”.  Being trustworthy does not mean zombie-like carrying out of commands; quite the reverse.  It means knowing enough about what’s being asked of you so that you will do things well, with care and foresight.

2. Know the importance of discretion

But don’t keep lips sealed if this leads to a lack of transparency or corrupt behaviour.  You should preserve workplace confidentiality when it’s required, but never if a colleague or manager is trying to inveigle you into an action or activity that doesn’t feel right.

3. Resist the urge to exaggerate

Trust is eroded when you start embellishing.  We all exaggerate on occasion, often because we seek some kind of short-term gain such as making an impression on others.  Try not to – it isn’t worth it.

4. Correct things for the record

If you’ve made an error, go back and correct it and advise those that need to know. Flubs can happen for quite innocent reasons. When someone is mistakenly described by an enthusiastic MC as something they are not, eg a PhD when they are not, put matters right soon, in an appropriate way.

5. Don’t be a prima donna about priorities

Trustworthiness gains little to no traction when you’re dealing with someone who insists on their own time-frame when completing a job, refusing to cooperate.  There’s a limit to this brand of “skills integrity” when it’s unreasonably protracted.

If it’s missing or fragmented, can trust be restored? 

Yes, when people are:

  • Prepared to admit they’re wrong – granted, this is awkward.  Backpedalling on a position you’d bullishly defended can cost you allies.  But far better to confess your mistake as quickly as possible than compounding it by digging in. Maybe we don’t need a wall as planned!
  • Realistic that restoring other people’s confidence might take a while – If trust has been abused in some way, it’s certainly not going to be awarded with a snap of the fingers.  Trust can’t be imposed by one person on another.  Like respect, it can only be earned. Sadly for some, trust will never be restored.
  • Embracing accountability – this means an awareness and implementation of impeccable standards and codes of conduct, which in turn depends on group willingness to combine forces in ensuring trust won’t be broken in future.

Feeling confident that you can trust and in turn be worthy of trust is what contributes to individual and collective wellbeing.  Demonstrated properly and well, it is a series of circles that spiral up and everybody benefits.

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