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  • Melissa Sims

Maintaining Trust

I saw an article this morning about Amazon employees staging a walkout to protest recent return to in-person work mandates, layoffs, and the company’s less than stellar environmental record. While the walkout wasn’t massive with about 2,000 participants worldwide, it should still send a very clear message to their leaders. Trust between employee and employer is broken.

This can happen quite easily at such a massive company, as the communication lines between workers and leaders isn’t always straight forward. Most workers at Amazon likely never have a conversation or even digital communications with the higher ups. They get shuffled through the matrix, much like a customer does. Amazon has built itself on the somewhat elusive nature of customer service, and they’ve been undeniably successful. But the true heart of a company lies with the cogs in the machine, it’s employees. So where does Amazon go from here? It is probably just a blip on the radar for them, and this will be gone by the next news cycle. But what I want to drive home for you, as a leader of a smaller team, is that you are not Amazon. You can’t ignore unhappy employees, and you have to try to maintain trust or you can risk the health of your entire team.

If you’ve established trust, it means that your team has confidence in your and your ability to lead them. On the other hand, if you haven’t established trust, you likely have distrust, or suspicion on the team. This can bring a plethora of problems from gossip, undermining behavior, defiance, and negativity. Relationships of all kinds are built on and sustained by trust, but they can also be broken and destroyed by lack of trust. This is why the issue of trust is crucial related to teamwork. You cannot maintain a cohesive unit if there is no trust between team members or between individuals and supervisors.

So what is trust, in its simplest terms? Trust is basically a function of two things: character and competence. Character is your integrity, your motive, and your intent with other people. Competence would be your capabilities, skills, results delivered, and your track record. Trust is one of the most powerful forms of motivation and inspiration. People want to be trusted, they respond to trust. They THRIVE on trust. This means we must get good at establishing, extending, and restoring trust as the most effective way of relating to and working with others, and the most effective way of getting results.

One of the key principles of trust is displaying CONSISTENT BEHAVIOR, and here are some ways to do so.

Be Honest.

Let people know where you stand. Use simple language and call things for what they are. Demonstrate integrity and don’t manipulate people or distort facts.

Demonstrate Respect.

Show you care and respect the dignity of every person and every role. Treat everyone with respect, especially those who can’t do anything for you. Don’t fake and don’t attempt to be “efficient” with people.

Create Transparency.

Be open and authentic. Operate on the premise that “what you see is what you get.” Don’t have hidden agendas and don’t hide information. If you can’t share information, be honest about why you can’t.

Right Wrongs

Make things right when you’re wrong. Apologize quickly. Demonstrate personal humility. Don’t cover things up and don’t let pride get in the way of doing the right thing.

Show Loyalty.

Give credit freely. Acknowledge the contributions of others. Speak about people as if they were present. Represent others who aren’t there to speak for themselves. Don’t bad-mouth others behind their backs.

Deliver Results.

Establish a track record of results. Accomplish what you’re hired to do. Be on time and within budget. Don’t overpromise and under-deliver. Don’t make excuses for not delivering.

Get Better.

Continuously improve. Increase your capabilities. Be a constant learner and develop a feed back system. Act on feedback received. Thank people for feedback. Don’t assume today’s knowledge and skills will be sufficient for tomorrow’s challenges.

Confront Reality.

Address the tough issues directly. Acknowledge the unsaid. Lead out courageously in conversation. Don’t skirt the real issues and don’t bury your head in the sand.

Clarify Expectations.

Disclose and reveal expectations. Discuss them and validate them. Renegotiate them if needed. Don’t violate expectations and don’t assume that expectations are clear or shared.

Practice Accountability.

Hold yourself and others accountable. Take responsibility for results. Don’t blame others when things go wrong. Be clear about how you’ll communicate how you’re doing and how others are doing.

Listen First.

Listen before you speak. Understand and diagnose. Don’t assume you know what is most important to the people you work with – find out. Don’t presume you have all the answers or the questions. Listen with your ears, eyes and heart.

Keep Commitments.

Say what you’re going to do and then do it. Make commitments carefully and keep them. Don’t break confidences. If you do break a commitment, take it seriously and communicate honestly.

Extend Trust.

Extend trust abundantly to those who have earned your trust. Extend trust conditionally to those who are earning your trust. Learn how to appropriately extend trust to others based on the situation, risk, and credibility (character and competence) of the people involved. Don’t withhold trust because there is risk involved. Have a propensity to trust.

What if we’ve broken trust? How does it happen? Some behaviors that will destroy trust and credibility are:

Covering up mistakes: shows that you don’t have the confidence in yourself to accept mistakes.

Gossiping: shows that there isn’t loyalty.

Hoarding information shows a lack of confidence, again.

Leaking confidential information shows a lack of loyalty and integrity.

Micro-managing sends the message that you don’t have confidence in others’ abilities.

In addition, sending mixed messages, not being open to feedback, taking credit when it isn’t yours to take, and placing blame on others are more ways to destroy trust in a relationship.

If you’ve found yourself in the situation where you need to repair trust on your team, here are some tips to help you restore trust.

Acknowledge what has happened. Clarify and acknowledge the impact of the betrayal, in detail.

Allow feelings to surface. There is an emotional fallout from the breach of trust. Holding in or denying feelings or grief perpetuate more distrust. Feelings are valid and deserve to be recognized.

Get support.

A different perspective can provide a productive way forward out of a place of hurt.

Reframe the experience.

Placing the experience in a larger context and striving to understand the extenuating circumstances which led to the breach of trust allows a holistic view. It makes more visible the complexities of the situation and allows for empathy for the other person(s) involved.

Take responsibility.

Even if a person isn’t “at fault” in a situation, they are responsible for helping to restore trust. Showing others that we can learn which behaviors need to be practiced to keep the situation from happening again is an extremely powerful way to restore trust with others. This breaks the rhythm of distrust.

Forgive yourself and others.

Forgiveness releases the weight of bitterness and resentment, and empowers people to approach others with compassion and understanding in the future. Accepting that we are all human and fallible is a core facet of the ability to build trusting relationships.

Let go and move on.

Letting go and moving on doesn’t mean forgetting what happened or the feelings experienced. It simply means making a choice to focus on the insights and deeper understanding gained about connections with others.

I don’t think that Amazon with be employing any of these techniques anytime soon, but wouldn’t it be nice if huge corporations could just try? We do live in a society where we, the little guy, keep the machine running and the big guy usually has no awareness of how we are impacted. There is a huge disconnect between the decision-makers and the people that are actually doing the work. In smaller groups, however, we have an opportunity to maintain trust by keeping lines of communication open, staying aware of ourselves, and keeping our behavior consistent. If you can model the trust you wish to see on your team, you can avoid costly disgruntlement and keep everyone happy and working efficiently.


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