Building Trust: WFH During 2021

Most of us agree that building trust is essential at all levels of our careers. 

And most of us don’t give much thought to how to go about building trust. We assume that people will see our work, see that we’re good at it, and then start to trust us. Bingo. Trust built! 

That’s far from how it works.

Building trust doesn’t have to be complicated, and it’s something you need to be aware of and be actively working to make happen. Since most of us are continuing to work from home, it’s even more important to ensure your employees know that you’re there still for them and that they can still rely on you.

During 2020 it was easy to think, “We just need to get through this year.” As a result, you might have put off some necessary and hard work around building trust with your team. 

I get it! It was difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that how we had to work in 2020 was the way we would be working in 2021. 

I don’t dispute what we are doing and why it’s important, yet it’s exhausting. 

I’m in this for the long haul–keeping me and my family healthy, not seeing friends in person or closer than 6 feet for at least another 6 months, and no travel for, sigh, yep, 6+ months. 

Hmm, 3 mentions of “6” in here?! 6-6-6. Conspiracy?! Sorry. Couldn’t resist . . . and now back to how you can nurture trust from home in 2021. 

Here are 4 things to do to move you along in building trust–as we enter pandemic part two. 

#1. Don’t Beat Yourself Up for Feeling Behind

First thing: don’t think about this from the POV of, “There is so much I could have done in 2020 to continue to build trust. I’m so behind.”

The feeling of being behind haunts so many of us in numerous areas of life and work. 

I won’t try to coach that feeling out of you right now. That would take more than the 5 minutes you have to read this blog today. Instead, I’ll share this: 

You can choose to beat yourself about the fact that you coulda shoulda done more trust-building last year. Or you can not. You can choose not to dwell on this. 

It’s a choice. Acknowledge you didn’t do enough last year to build trust. Choose to do it this year. 

This quotation from John C. Maxwell feels apropos here: “The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.”


#2. Embrace Your Sweats: Continue to Be Vulnerable

This probably sounds familiar to you, especially since Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability has gotten so much (and rightly so) exposure in the last decade. I 

Make yourself vulnerable. It’s not easy, and the rewards for trying are big. Being vulnerable leads people to see you as worthy of trust. 

The fact is you’re already vulnerable now. More than before this pandemic, at least. We see your bed behind you during Zoom. We see your kids interrupting you. We hear the doorbell ringing with deliveries. And when you get up to shut the door to your home “office”, we see you’re wearing sweats on the bottom and a tailored blouse on the top. It’s OK. 

Trust me on this. Leaders who are vulnerable, who share faults, personal histories, and aspirations, tend to draw people to them. Vulnerability opens the door to trust

You can do that and also keep it professional. Sharing how you got to your current level, and the struggles you had getting there, is fine. Sharing that you’re tired of the fact that your kids won’t shut the fridge door during midnight snacking and that you’ve tied the door shut with a shoelace to signal how to shut it is fine.. Sharing that it’s hard to work at home with someone whom you didn’t think you’d be with 24/7 is fine. 

Consider what you can share and what information you can give, freely and willingly. 

You don’t need to demonstrate that you are taking a risk and making yourself vulnerable. You can do it without actually stating, “I am now going to make myself vulnerable to build your trust.” People will recognize that you’ve opened up yourself more, and that will go a long way toward building the trust you’re working on.

For the best resource for teams ready to dive into building trust together, check out Patrick Lencioni’s classic book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He does a fabulous job of describing why trust is essential to high-performing teams. And remember, if it feels uncomfortable, you’re probably headed down the right path. You need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Then, when you’re ready to think about trust with your organization in mind, read Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies by Paul Zak. Science and roadmap. In a book. I love this one. 


#3. Do What You Say

This should sound obvious: be true to your word. 

Once you begin to convince people that you can be trusted, you must work just as hard to persuade them that you are someone who stands by what you say. 

Gaining someone’s trust is only the first step. Trust can be broken, and you have to continually work to keep your team’s trust once you’ve gotten it. It’s significantly harder to rebuild broken trust than it is to build it from nothing. When you’re building trust from nothing, you’re basically starting at zero. When you have to rebuild it, you’re starting from negative ten. 

Being true to your word adds layers to the new foundation of trust you are building and shows your team that their trust is not misplaced.

Think back to some of the things you have said in the last week–essentially the promises you have made. Did you follow through? Did you call that peer, deliver that tough feedback, fight for the budget to hire someone?

As you practice being true to your word, remember that many people–especially your team members–will take what you say at face value. They believe in you. 

Give them more and more reasons to trust you. Make sure they know their trust is not misplaced, that they haven’t made a mistake by trusting you. 

The author and Toltec spiritualist don Miguel Ruiz calls this the first agreement in his classic book, The Four Agreements: Be impeccable with your word. 

Wouldn’t you trust someone who is impeccable with their word?

Being true to your word is, I’d argue, more important now than when you were in the office. In the office, we were able to build relationships and trust and communicate more freely. We had more chances. We saw each other. We were able to read body language more easily than now.


#4. Apologize

It’s your favorite thing to hear when you’re angry at someone for doing something you don’t like: an apology! Now, it’s your turn and a tool to use more often.

Apologize for your mistakes–first and fast. 

Don’t wait until you’re caught or forced to apologize. As soon as you realize something has happened that necessitates an apology, do it immediately. Be proactive on this. 

Who likes to say sorry? Not many hands going up, eh? 

No one likes to admit they were wrong or that they made a mistake. 

But, look . . . we all make mistakes. 

Every single person you work with, your peers, your direct reports, your managers, the clients, the executives, literally everyone, has made a mistake and had to own up to it. 

How you handle your mistakes says as much about you as the mistake you made in the first place. Do you own it, accept your role, and apologize? Or do you throw blame around on everyone else, not acknowledge your part in what happened, and refuse to apologize? 

When you make a mistake, acknowledge it immediately, be the first person to apologize and do it fast. Your mom would say, “Be the bigger person.” 

Don’t beat around the bush when apologizing. Use direct language, and don’t forget to use the actual words, “I’m sorry”! Just “I’m sorry.” Don’t embellish, don’t try to make it sound softer or nicer. “I’m sorry” is an apology. “I’m sorry you got upset” is not. 

If you need more tips on how to effectively apologize, you can read my blog post on exactly that topic. 

Building and keeping trust isn’t about perfection. It’s about honesty.  

The more true you are to yourself and the people around you, the more easily you will be viewed as a trustworthy leader—and to more people than you think.

We’re exhausted. This pandemic is awful. Your team wants to trust you. Make it easy for them to do so.