Leaders, Here Are 4 Ways You’re Inadvertently Destroying Trust in the Workplace (and What to Do Instead)

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Trust is the “IT” factor in effective communication and your relationships with your team — and ultimately, it’s the ingredient that fosters creativity. And yet, for many leaders, trust within the team remains elusive.

You may be part of the problem. Despite your best intentions for building relationships and trust within the team, you might be inadvertently diminishing your trustworthiness with the team, thus slowing communication, hurting relationships and stunting innovation.

The good news: It doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are the four biggest trust-destroyers for leaders and what you can do instead to deepen those relationships and be the trustworthy leader your team and your organization need you to be.

Related: Lack of Trust — What Does It Do to Your Company? Here’s What Leaders Need to Know.

1. Failing frequency

“If you don’t hear from me, everything is good.” This cringe-worthy statement is brought to you by busy leaders everywhere.

No matter how busy you are, limiting communication to only the most urgent or problematic situations stifles relationship development and it creates the perception that you are the bearer of bad news.

This lack of communication leaves the team feeling like they’re operating in the dark. Since it’s human nature to fill in information gaps with our own stories, lack of information also fuels the rumor mill.

Make it a point to touch base with your team at least once a day. This could be a five-minute standing meeting in the morning, a quick cube drive-by (or a brief phone call or teams chat for remote teams) for each team member.

Share summaries from leadership meetings, strategic initiatives and goings-on outside the immediate team. Even if you think there’s not much to share, touch base with your team anyway. The more information you share, the more confident the team feels.

One more thing to keep in mind: It takes an average of 7-10 times to hear or see a message before it starts to be internalized. The more important something is, the more often you will need to talk about it.

Frequent, ongoing communication provides a win-win in that you have the organic opportunity to check on status, offer support, remove barriers, and over time, deepen trust and relationships.

2. Muddled messaging

Do you set sweeping expectations in the hopes your smart, capable team will “figure out” how to deliver your vision? Do you give feedback in broad, unspecified terms? Do you find yourself making a lot of “educated guesses” when answering the teams’ questions?

This is muddled messaging. These unclear, barely actionable messages have hopes of providing clarity or direction.

A simple shift in how you construct your messaging makes all the difference.

Be clear, be concise. Get rid of jargon-y, fluffy filler words. Don’t leave space for ambiguity. Instead, use these guiding questions to help construct the message: WHO is the audience? WHAT do they need to know? WHY are you sharing this message? WHAT is the expectation?

Related: Trust Needs To Be Earned — Not Demanded. Here Are 5 Crucial Leadership Elements to Earn Your Team’s Trust.

3. Lack of listening

Listening to only a chosen few or selectively excluding voices of dissent from decision-making is a bad idea for many reasons.

In selective listening, the tendency is to invite opinions and advice only from the “yes people” and your perpetual cheerleaders. Not only does this prevent you from hearing valuable insights (even the dissenting — as those are the ones who will challenge, poke holes and encourage deeper thinking), but it drives distrust and stifles creative thinking.

In order to be an effective leader, it’s not enough to listen to the board or to the chosen few. You have a responsibility to solicit feedback (and internalize it) from your team.

Build trust by listening. Get curious about what the team has to say. Proactively seek out advice and insights. Questions like “How did I do on that call?” “What did you think about that meeting?” or “What would you do if you were in my position?” are great prompts to hear from others.

4. Words and behaviors don’t match

This is stuff your mama told you. If you say you’re going to do something, for goodness sake, do it. And if something unforeseen arises that prevents you from honoring your commitment, say something!

I had to dump a long-time vendor for exactly this reason. They kept promising a two-week delivery on my promotional items. After six weeks, there was still no order. When I called, they promised it wouldn’t happen again. But the same thing occurred the very next time I ordered; they promised two weeks but turned out to be closer to eight.

I didn’t fire this vendor because the product or service was bad. I fired this vendor because they weren’t honest about how long things were going to take, and they didn’t communicate proactively when there was an issue. I fired them because I couldn’t trust them to keep their word.

The takeaway? Honor your word. If unforeseen circumstances arise that prevent you from keeping your word, be forthcoming about it. This allows others to adjust their expectations and allows you to still keep your commitment.

Avoid these trust-damaging pitfalls and replace them with ongoing, candid communication and aligned words and action. This small investment will yield you tons of return in the effectiveness of the relationships with your team.

Related: 7 Proven Tips for Building Trust and Strengthening Workplace Relationships

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