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How to Build trust in the Workplace

Every single moment our brains are scanning our environment and calculating whether we can trust the people around us.  At work, we need to feel confident that speaking up or making a mistake isn’t going to be a career-limiting move. Our brain asks regularly – Am I safe to be myself? Do I belong to this team? Do we share a meaningful future together?

When these questions are answered affirmatively, it produces trust and psychological safety enabling us to operate at a more sophisticated level.

In contrast, when we don’t subconsciously receive these assurances from our team leader, we hold back our opinions, information and working with others.

When we feel like we don’t belong, it creates self-doubt and fear. People need to feel a sense of connection to their team, to increase their ability to succeed in their role.

Likewise, when we don’t know what’s going to happen next we will push back from committing to goals.

The way to avoid this is for the leader to involve people in a meaningful future. It pulls employees into engagement and out of the low performance zone in the brain.

At its core, this requires a leader who is skilled at building trust in an authentic manner. Not just through communication, but through subtle and consistent belonging cues and actions. In other words, a leader who has honest conversations, drives accountability and is approachable.

The more people trust their leader, and each other, the more they will take risks and adapt ensuring steady progress of the organisation.

Workplaces require leaders who reassure people that their emotional needs are being met through both verbal and nonverbal communication. Essentially, they communicate that the organisations cares about people, not profit. And that they care about their direct reports - their career pathway, mental health and job satisfaction.

This involves leaders communicating to the part of the brain that manages trust – the mammalian or limbic brain. The part of the brain that doesn’t understand language, but feelings.

So how does a leader engage employees emotionally?

The Integrated Trust Building System

The Integrated Trust Building System (colour)


The Integrated Trust Building System has been developed to answer the questions that people worry about subconsciously in the workplace. Questions that impact performance.

It forms the map of topics that highlight the path for leadership development programs or as part of an internal conference. Helping managers more effectively lead accountable, connected teams that trust each other, in order to free up a leader's time to focus on other tasks.

The good news is that these signals don’t take much time to deliver, it just takes practise and a proven system.

The system is broken down into two components - communication practices and actions.

3 Communication Practices

Teams move up into the Achievement Zone when the leader sends signals that “we’re in this together.” We process whether we can trust someone through our emotions. We don’t trust others by what they say, it’s how they make us feel. It’s their consistent actions that show that they care about our well-being that determine whether we feel we can or cannot trust them. And that’s why it’s so common for employees to want their leaders to walk the talk.

After all, you can’t talk your way into trust; you have to behave your way into it.

And that's where the Integrated Trust Building System helps leaders effortlessly emotionally engage employees using three communication practices critical for high performance according to neuroscience studies. These are:

1. Safety - Helping people feel their leader cares about them, so they are supported in taking risks and making mistakes.

2. Connection - Helping people feel like they belong and that they are valued for their contribution, in order to reduce self doubt and fear. That the work they do matters.

3. Meaningful Future - Showing people a clear path forward for both themselves and the organisation itself.

3 Daily Actions to Build Trust

In addition, to the three trust communication practices there are three corresponding actions where leaders practice these communication techniques. Essentially, employees want to see evidence that the organisation and leaders care about people. And they need to feel it through observing how leaders interact and treat people.

The Integrated Trust Building System takes leaders through:

  1. Effective Meetings and One-on-Ones - the best meeting routines and one-on-one discussions to help people perform and work together optimally.
  2. Being Visible - ensuring visibility of tasks and information, while being approachable.
  3. Fostering Accountability - techniques to request accountability and model accountability.

Leaders often waste a lot of time avoiding difficult conversations and people.  This system provides leaders with the right tools and techniques to build trust quickly.

If you want to read more, pick up a copy of my book, Trusted to Thrive: How leaders create connected and accountable teams. 

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