Stop It! Things You Do to Destroy Trust in the Workplace


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Trust provides the foundation for building an amazing culture.  Organizations like Great Place to Work Institute recognize trust as one of the essential components of organizations featured on Fortune’s Best Companies to Work for lists.  Without trust, culture flounders in a sea of ambivalence, confusion, and animosity.  Efficiency stalls as everyone spends more time and energy trying to decide if they can trust their co-workers than actually doing work.  Trusting others sounds simple, right?  If it were just that simple, we wouldn’t all be guilty of doing things that destroy our employees‘ trust.  Here are a few of the little things we do that destroy trust in the workplace.

Not Providing Honest Feedback
Have you ever avoided an opportunity to provide a colleague with valuable feedback because you were afraid to hurt his or her feelings?  If so, you are guilty of this trust destroyer.  People need honest feedback to grow and to trust.  Who better to tell us how we are doing or to help us learn from our mistakes than our fellow co-workers.  When we avoid providing feedback, or worse, get someone else to provide our feedback, we open the door for our colleagues to wonder what else we failed to be honest about or who else we’ve talked to about our colleagues’ work.  Consider this the gateway to larger trust issues within a team.

Looking to prevent this? Begin with yourself.  Providing honest feedback is not mean if it is delivered appropriately.  Acknowledge that providing feedback might lead to conflict and be prepared to address that in your conversation.  This may mean being open to the fact that you might not be right (or that you might have to listen to reasons why your colleague disagrees).  Disagreement is okay.  Your colleague doesn’t have to take your advice, but he or she will value that you participated in a meaningful discussion rather than avoiding the issue altogether.  Just remember, these conversations are best done in person and in a private area, like an office or a conference room, so your colleague can save face if necessary.

Don’t misunderstand me.  Providing honest feedback does not mean you get to baldly tell your co-worker how you feel.  Remember to use tact and diplomacy when providing feedback.  Be constructive, not deconstructive.  Rudely given feedback is still rude, even if it is given with the best of intentions.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, don’t apologize if your feedback is valid.  Click here to read some simple tips for giving constructive feedback.

Trying to Control Things You Can’t (or Shouldn’t)
There’s a project deadline looming and you are worried.  You are dependent on your co-worker to provide information for the project.  What if she doesn’t do her part?  If you’ve ever taken over and done a colleague’s work, you are guilty of this trust destroyer.  To get trust, we also must give trust.  This means we have to give our colleagues the opportunity to succeed and fail on their own.  This does not absolve us from the actions we control, like following up and reminding others of their job tasks; however, it does relieve us from doing others work or telling others how to do their work.

To prevent this, we need to understand where the separation between what is theirs and what is ours lies.  In project work, it helps to outline responsibilities at the beginning and document it in a project plan.  This generates a document that outlines responsibilities simply and can be used for reference in the future.  We also need to let go of the concept that our way is the only way or the right way.  Often, several different paths lead to the same outcome.  Focus more on results than on the tactics that generate the results.  Trust that others can do the work for which they are responsible.

Not Keeping Your Commitments (or Not Communicating Your Delays)
Hand in hand with the previous things, trust relies on keeping promises and communicating openly.  If you are the co-worker who has a piece of the project, you’ve made a commitment.  Like any good relationship, commitments require communication to work effectively.  Failing to meet deadlines or to communicate when you expect delays destroys your co-workers trust in you.  Further, it leads to situations like the one above.  Give back trust by keeping your commitments and communicating delays.

I know, bad news, like missing a deadline, isn’t easy to share.  Remember, we all have situations that can cause delays.  Chances are your co-worker can help you make the deadline work.  It’s okay to accept help, or even ask for help, when you need it.  This doesn’t mean that you can procrastinate then ask for help.  No, that’s definitely a no-no. If you find yourself overloaded with other projects, suddenly delayed because of an illness, or hitting a roadblock, reach out to your co-workers and your manager and say something.

There are many other ways we destroy trust in the workplace.  What are some of the experiences you’ve had that have had you questioning the motives of your co-workers and how could they have been prevented?