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The Key to Building Trust at Work

Aug 29, 2023

Trust is not built in big, sweeping moments. It’s built in tiny moments every day.” – Brené Brown.

Have you ever been in a role where you couldn’t trust the people you worked with? Where they said one thing and did another. I certainly have. I can still remember the feeling of hurt when I discovered the deceit that had happened. 

I had trusted someone, and they had acted against me. It has stayed with me – even decades later. It is like it happened yesterday and I can see exactly where I was sitting when I discovered it.

Trust at work is so fundamental to our wellbeing. 

In his model about high performing teams, Patrick Lencioni identifies trust as underpinning all successful teams – and the absence of trust as being the problem.

Trust doesn’t mean we all agree with each other. It means that when we disagree we talk about it. It means that I trust you to be honest with me.

And so trust at work is so important and in order to create a safe environment for coaching conversations to happen – we need to ensure we create an environment of trust.

What does trust at work look like?

We ask people on our coaching programmes what trust looks like – how do we know when it is there?

  1. With trust, people say, the others took time to understand them, they didn’t judge.
  2. They kept confidence and they empathised. 
  3. There was a genuine sense of concern about others and a felt sense of wholeheartedness and caring. 
  4. Trusting managers and colleagues engaged personally and were also vulnerable and authentic.
  5. They took risks on people – trusting that if they couldn’t rise to the challenge they would let them know. 
  6. They were also trustworthy themselves – if they said they would do something they did.

Trust is also key to creating psychological safety

The absence of trust left people feeling judged. They thought that the person had a hidden agenda and there was no transparency.

When trust wasn’t present there was inconsistent behaviour and people didn’t deliver whey they promised they would. There was a felt sense of self-centeredness and a lack of empathy and authenticity.

Trust is also key to creating psychological safety.An honest answer which includes bad news which I can trust is much easier to stomach than a vague and slightly honest answer which I can’t trust. Then I am left wondering how bad the situation is going to be.

Building trust in coaching conversations 

In coaching conversations we can build trust based on this. Perhaps the most important starting point is that we can hold confidentiality. 

This is central to coaching and part of a coach’s ethical practice. Showing respect for the other person helps to build trust – even if we disagree we can respect their views. 

We can demonstrate empathy and compassion. Small things like keeping to agreements helps – for example, being on time for the conversation.

We can build trust by sharing small examples of our own experience, especially if it helps our coachee to feel they are not alone in their experience. We can also encourage people to trust themselves and their own views and opinions. 

Within our Level 1 coaching programme, we provide guidance on cultivating both interpersonal trust and client relationships. You no longer have to depend on guesswork; instead, you can naturally facilitate the authentic flow of trust in your conversations.

I encourage you to consider how you build trust in your working relationships and look for opportunities to deepen this.

You can also check our our previous blog on empathy at work, read more here.  

If you have any positive outcomes from trying these techniques, we also invite you to share how these skills have helped you in your conversations in our comment section of our LinkedIn and Instagram pages.

Want to coach well? Unlock tips on how you can exercise coaching skills
in this week’s toolkit. Download our Free Leadership Reset Toolkit here.  

Jean Balfour ICF Accredited Professional Coach and Managing Director of Bailey Balfour

Jean Balfour

Founder & Programmes Director


About the Author

Jean Balfour is Managing Director of Bailey Balfour and Programme Director of our ICF Accredited Coach Training Programmes. Jean is passionate about helping people to have good conversations both at work and at home. She believes that coaching is a life skill and that you never regret learning to coach.

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