Let’s Talk About Trust: Earning It & Granting It In The Workplace (SD101:CP Ep.2 Companion Article)

Trust seems like such a simple thing, doesn’t it? It often feels very cut and dry: it’s either there or it’s not.

It’s basic. It’s instinctual.

In actuality, trust is a very, VERY complex concept, steeped in emotional precedent for the individual, contextual history for the individual, anxiety over repeating actions/decisions that lead to outcomes that weren’t good for the individual, etc. There are so many psychological levels within the concept of trust, it can often be the term used in your workplace that is the hardest to understand.

Trust in the workplace impacts SO MUCH. So, how is such a ‘simple thing’ so misunderstood and yet impacts such a wide array of success factors for a workforce? Well, that’s why we chose to take on this topic, to give it more form and understanding, and to provide you with some actionable tips for when it is approached at work.

We discussed two topics that trust impacts in our episode published last week, ENGAGEMENT and EMPOWERMENT. (If you haven’t watched/listened yet, you can head HERE for the video or HERE to access our podcast hub.)

The role of TRUST in the workplace/workspace has a life cycle, just like any other foundational skill or concept. It must be earned to be built, maintained and celebrated, actively guided around potential disruptors that may degrade it and rebuilt when it becomes lost (see below.)

While skill, potential and performance are all key factors in the success of a team or an organization, TRUST is the all too often unspoken requirement. There are 5 key points of action where trust comes most heavily into play within the workplace (as noted in the roadmap above):

  1. Earning and Building it
  2. Maintaining it to see positive impact
  3. Active Avoidance of Trust Obstacles (Identifying and Planning ahead)
  4. Taking Ownership of Loss of Trust and Committing to Change
  5. Rebuilding and Earning it Again

While we will dig much deeper into the full life cycle of Workplace Trust in a later article, this article (and accompanying video HERE and podcast HERE) dig into the FIRST STOP on the above roadmap: EARNING IT.

Truth be told, there are TWO PARTS within that ‘Earning & Building’ step. Working to earn trust within your team or location or organization only goes as far as the other person involved is CAPABLE and COMFORTABLE of granting it to you.

There is nothing more disengaging to an employee who is going above and beyond to prove their potential, commitment, and trustworthiness than having those actions be ignored (or even just perceiving they are.) That leads to frustration, anger, and a complete degradation of whatever trust that employee held for those above them. It impacts their desire to perform, to offer help to others, to believe in the promise of advancement… it impacts A LOT.

It is with this knowledge that Carrie digs into the importance of understanding the actions that you can take to both EARN trust, as well as GRANT TRUST, to others at work.

First, let’s start with a quick exercise to get you in the right mindset for this topic:

  • Think of someone you trust in your life. Someone that you trust more than anyone else. Think of why….
  • Now think of someone you trust at work. Think of why…
  • NOW – think of the common denominators:
  1. Were they fulfilling promises? Keeping commitments?
  2. Were they helping you when you needed it most?
  3. Did they show you repeated proof that they are committed to you?
  4. Were they honest? Are they genuine and sincere when they speak with you?
  5. Are they still fully honest even when it might be hard to hear?
  6. Do they participate in your successes (because they know even the smallest step can be the hardest?)
  7. Do they have Awareness…. of YOU and your needs/wants/successes and challenges?
  8. Do YOU have an unwavering knowledge that they will be there for you? Because they HAVE been?

Now, with these two people in mind as your guidepost, next think of who you WANT TO TRUST, or WHO YOU SHOULD TRUST but might not. Think of why…

This question is harder for TWO BIG REASONS:

  1. Anyone you WANT to trust but cannot – has probably failed you somehow
  2. Anyone you SHOULD trust but cannot – has most likely not earned it yet in your eyes

This question is also more complicated because the answers are outside your control and are FRUSTRATING. It is ok to be frustrated in the moment, what is not helpful is choosing to stay frustrated. THAT negatively impacts you, your work, your goals, your engagement, and it bleeds over into your team, your location and (depending on role and level) potentially into your entire organization.

What happens, more often than not though, is that we (as the employee) get stuck at this point. We find ourselves replaying these reasons for “not trusting” over and over again in our heads, continuing the cycle of distrust and reinforcing our frustrations. This is counterproductive to finding workplace satisfaction (focusing on what is out of your control more than what is within it.) Instead, we ask you to think differently for a moment.

What if you were to flip your perspective around?

  1. What if they’ve failed you because they haven’t recognized your actions to earn their trust? Have you taken them? Are they aware?
  2. What if you haven’t given trust to someone because you’ve missed their attempts to earn it? Are you aware? Are their actions even correct? Are THEY aware of how to earn it?

Sometimes, seeing from the other person’s perspective can give you insight into why you are reacting as you are.

Now that we’ve gotten our brains working and have seen value in other points of view… let’s dig in.

As a review, let’s take a look at the Work Circle of Trust graphic again. For the purposes of this article, we are speaking to only the 3 innermost rings compared to you (which can be directly interacted with within your workspace.)


So how do you do it? WHY should you do it? Well, once you understand the why, the how seems so simple, right? Unfortunately, not enough people take the time to understand the WHY of workplace trust on a local level, particularly if you are the employee and not the leader.

As a leader, you most likely understand the benefits of workplace trust and the key role it plays in the success of a team, a location….an entire organization! Chances are, you have an email or an entire slide deck showcasing the metrics. The hardest part is that you can’t fully control the level of trust that people place in you, in the team, in the location… in the entire organization. But….. METRICS. We focus on the numbers. So, we check the boxes of the actions we should take, and often don’t spend time on understanding (and communicating) the WHY to our employees from their point of view. We see statistics, which, though important to understand because they showcase the potential positive impact, are NOT going to get an employee to place their trust in you.

Harvard Business Review did a study and found that companies with a high level of workplace trust report:

  • 74% less stress,
  • 106% more energy at work,
  • 50% higher productivity,
  • 13% fewer sick days,
  • 76% more engagement,
  • 29% more satisfaction with their lives,
  • 40% less burnout.

So yes, WORKPLACE TRUST IS IMPORTANT! But an employee isn’t telling themself: “I want to be 74% less stressed at work so I’m going to trust my boss more.” That’s not how it works.

So WHY is it important to the employee? And how can you earn their trust, and how they can earn yours?

It’s important that an employee can trust their co-workers, supervisor, senior leadership, organizational mission for one MAIN REASON: it validates their decision to work for your organization, gives them reason to show up each day and is the driving force behind all of the key indicators of workplace satisfaction. SHORT SPEAK: If someone trust their employer, they feel good, work to DO good, show up and keep showing up.

Now, HOW can you earn it from someone else? Or how can someone earn it from you?

Simple: you take actions that are in support of the WHYs:

  • following thru on commitments
  • following up on promises
  • making time for the other party
  • being honest with them
  • being aware of their work and giving praise to them
  • showing up to help with development or even plain old ‘work’
  • sacrificing something less important of your own to help someone else with something more critical to THEM
  • owning up to when you may fail someone (or fall short of their expectations)
  • being vulnerable sometimes (to show common ground)
  • committing to be better if you need to be

Earning trust is all about YOU taking ACTION. Earning is all about ‘showing’ you are trustworthy not just telling someone you are. Regardless of your role, these actions are all relevant… whether you are in a supervisory role or are an hourly employee.


Granting trust is easy if the other party has worked to earn it from you.

It’s excruciatingly hard, when the other party has not fully earned your trust, yet you find yourself needing to take a chance.

Whether you’ve been burned in the past, or it’s a brand-new work relationship, without much tenure… those chances are hard to give to people. They’re called ‘leaps of faith’ for a reason… there is a risk involved, which often means YOU will personally own the fault if the other party doesn’t follow through or uses the trust you bestowed upon them inappropriately (or even unethically!)

But, in work as in life, we must take chances… we must bridge the gap. We often must throw ourselves into the void, trusting in a new product or service model or business plan or even company mission. And even though it is easier to ‘go along’ with a new plan from the corporate machine, placing trust in another person, one that you will interact with face to face, is VERY hard.

But fear not! There are a few reminders to have in mind when you feel apprehensive granting trust to someone new, with an elevated responsibility, etc.:

  1. Give people the chance to help YOU once in a while (even when you don’t think you need it). This is a quick and easy way to start to gauge their ability and open the door to them earning trust in a way that you are directly involved in.
  2. Share someone else’s positive ‘impact’ on you as soon as it happens. Meaning: if someone does something that has a positive impact on you (your role or results, etc.) TELL THEM! This is another simple step in opening up the doors of communication so you can show them you are aware of their efforts, and it will help you become more comfortable giving them a bit more trust the next time an opportunity arises.
  3. Be a ‘trust mirror’. If you have a great relationship based in trust with someone at work, taking a moment to reflect on how that person SHOWS you they trust you can give you a few quick actions to put into place when you need to show someone else that you trust them (ie: ‘I know my boss trusts me deeply because I am asked to mentor new executives’ can easily turn into ‘I can show my high performing employees I trust them by having them help mentor new employees on elevated skills.’) We like to call this: Paying Trust Forward.
  4. ACTIVELY EMBRACE FORGIVENESS…. with a sliding scale. The comfort found in understanding that a single misstep doesn’t mean trust should be completely retracted is powerful. It is also a creates a great opportunity for you to deepen the teacher/student relationship to show the power of your trust. This is one of the only times that stating that you trust someone can be very impactful. Remember that others, who are learning new skills with your trust, are not going to get it right 100% of the time. This is true for both employees trusting new supervisors and supervisors trusting employees (either new, developing or even long tenured.)

It isn’t bad to vocalize your trust to someone else, but if you need to TELL someone you trust them, you probably aren’t showing that you trust them effectively (or even enough). What’s often forgotten, is that trust (in our personal lives and also in our professional lives) carries responsibility. If we’ve granted someone our trust, we should HONOR that trust with actions MORE OFTEN than words. The differences between “you did an amazing job with that customer earlier today, do you think you could be a troubleshooting partner for the other employees in your area today?” versus “I trust you will help your coworkers with any issues they have” might seem small, but they are actually quite great: one statement shows your awareness of the other’s actions, gives praise and elevates them… the other tells someone what to do in a passive aggressive manner.

Finally, you should always remember to consider that someone could be trying to earn your trust. They just might be earning it clumsily, or even in a completely non-conventional way. A boss who is always pestering you to help them out, might in fact be trying to develop you or start to show you that they trust you. An employee who is constantly asking to help you out with everything, might be trying to show you initiative, or potential, or simply learn more about you so that they can comfortably trust you as a supervisor.


Finally, here is one last thought keep in mind when applying “earning” and “granting” trust practices in the workplace:

Finding opportunities where you can work on EARNING trust to help you and your team achieve goals, as well as GRANTING trust in order to strengthen work relationships to your (and your team’s) benefit, is not as hard as it seems. If there are roles that can help you achieve your personal work goals… do the above assessment: do you need to work on earning trust to have them positively impact you? Or do you need to grant it? Recognizing how each role within your location can help each other means that you will be more engaged, more in control and HAPPIER with your job as well as development.

In the next episode (and article), Edward tackles the concept of AGILITY and digs into the most important part: UNDERSTANDING IT!

Until then, like, subscribe and follow us here for more articles on driving your own success at work. We are also on LinkedIn HERE .

And as always, feel free to share these with your friends, family and social media circles or any other place where you feel they will add value!

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