Trust Stories

While working on my book, Fully Human, in 2018, I wanted to hear from readers about what they experienced trying to build trust in the workplace. The essential question:

Please describe a story at work, which reflects how you build trust with someone, or how someone built trust with you. It could be a peer, a boss, or someone who works for you.

The submissions were wonderful, and I am grateful to all of the responders who inspired me and let me share their stories in my book. I’ve featured a number of them here. Let this question and these stories prompt you to reflect on the relationships you’ve built, and inspire you to work on building authentic trust. 

Trust through language

Our language matters.

It is important for the people who work for you to know that they can trust you with their successes and their failures. Recently, a woman who works for me (I prefer to say we work together, actually) came to me in tears about a mistake that she had made and she was worried she would be fired over it. First, her willingness to come to me immediately and share this demonstrated to me that the trust I had cultivated with her was guiding her actions. She was not motivated by fear from repercussions from me but by concern of letting me down through her mistake. Because she knew I could be trusted with this information, it enabled us to figure out a solution to the error, which we did in short order. I know that my openness with her in the past and her assurances that I would not “throw her under the bus,” led to a good result from what could have been a ding to both of us if she hadn’t come to me immediately with her error. She verbally acknowledged that she trusted me and knew I would work with her to find a solution rather than point fingers or blame. Such a trust-based relationship has allowed us to work very well together knowing that we have each other’s backs.

— Mary E. Talbott, vice president and assistant general counsel at General Cable Corporation

The process I employ to build trust is that I remove the “I” in the relationship building process. I focus on the person and what they are about to find a connection point. From there, I invest in the person from personal to professional enrichment. Finally, I involve the “I” and allow my actions to solidify that their trust in me is well placed. I am always a 365-24/7 leader.

— E. G.

Trust through actions

Whether it’s through showing forgiveness, demonstrating honesty, or fuel social connection, trust is built by holding our language accountable through action.

There are five minority women at the executive level who all started for the company around the same time. We immediately formed a connection and for the last year or so we have supported one another through prayer, bible studies, acting as a sounding board when workplace challenges arise, being brutally honest with one another to tell one another what perceptions and things are being said about them when they are not in the room. These women have been a godsend and oh by the way everyone knows us as the fab 5.

— K.W.

I help colleagues build trust in me by getting to know them personally outside of work. It doesn’t have to be in great detail, but I like to know if they are married, have children, pets, etc. I try to understand what their role is in the company and how my role connects to theirs. I like to thank my colleagues with handwritten notes and their favorite items if it’s fitting. Knowing someone pays attention to the small things that makes up you helps to build trust in the bigger things.

— M.D. 

We hire a lot of college graduates. I’ve been with my company for 32 years so I definitely have to bond with the millennials. I have found the best way to build trust is to earn their confidence and to be available to mentor them when they see guidance. I apply the same secret to my children ages 29, 28 and 23 when they call me and begin to tell a story or share a frustration: I immediately ask them, “do you want me to listen or are you seeking my advice?” They love that I give them the freedom knowing that mom will just listen or will impart wisdom. I treat the new hires at work with the same respect.

— M.D. 

When Sherry Stewart Deutschmann was running Letter Logic, a Nashville-based patient billing company that she founded, everyone shared 10% of the profits, split evenly. In addition, she instituted an hourly pay rate of sixteen dollars for her workers, twice the federal minimum wage at the time.

“I went to a conference early on, and the speaker said to look at those who you paid the least,” she said. “Could they live on that? How about if they had a family? The next day I upped our hourly wage earners from twelve dollars per hour to sixteen dollars per hour.”

In 2016, she won the White House Champion of Change award for her compensation policies.

— As published in Fully Human

Jan Johnston Osburn told me about a time when her team was in crisis mode to staff a contract of nearly one billion dollars that her company was at risk of losing. “You need to know when you should get in the weeds, the trenches. Now was not the time to sit in my office and direct; now was the time to work beside my team, lending not just a hand but two hands, to prevent the team from being overwhelmed. You need to set the example by being side them. You should never ask of someone else what you yourself wouldn’t do.”

— As published in Fully Human

Lightly edited for clarity or grammar.