Building Trust

Posted By: Donna Oser, CAE Blog,

The world - and our relationships - seem so different than they were just a few years ago. Today, people are less connected to each other and the organizations they work with. Because of the disconnection, and perhaps because millions among us suffer from untreated mental health issues, people are quick to take offense, and relationships are fragile. 

As association leaders work to strengthen ties with team members, volunteers, and members, they may find William Bridges' guidance on building trust helpful. Bridges asserts trust is fostered through a number of specific actions: 

  1. Do what you say you will do. Don't make promises you can't or won't keep. Most people's trust problems have been learned from untrustworthy actions in the past.
  2. Listen to people carefully and tell them what you think they are saying. If you have it wrong, accept the correction and revise what you say. People trust others whom they believe understand them.
  3. Understand what matters to people and work hard to protect whatever is related to that. People trust those who are looking out for their best interests. 
  4. Share yourself honestly. Hiding shortcomings may improve your image, but it doesn't help build trust. Admitting an untrustworthy action is itself a trustworthy action. A lot of mistrust begins when people are unable to read you.
  5. Ask for feedback and acknowledge unasked-for feedback on the subject of your own trustworthiness. Regard it as valuable information to reflect on. It may be biased, and you don't have to swallow it whole. But check it for important half-truths.
  6. Don't try to push others to trust you further than you trust them. Your own mistrust will be communicated subtly and will be returned to you in kind. Trust is mutual, or it is very shallow.
  7. Try extending your trust of others a little further. Being trusted makes one more trustworthy, and trustworthy people are more trusting.
  8. Don't confuse being trustworthy with "being a buddy." Being a buddy for a purpose is an untrustworthy act. Besides, trust doesn't automatically come with friendship.
  9. Don't be surprised if your trust-building is viewed a bit suspiciously. Asking people to let go of their old mistrust means asking them to make a significant transition. Their mistrust, justified or not, is a form of self-protection, and no one readily gives up self-protection.
  10. If all of this is too complicated to remember and you want a single key to building trust, just remind yourself, "Tell the truth." 

Bridges assures that progress can be made with even the most mistrustful person and encourages leaders to get started. Every hour that mistrust continues makes transition more difficult to manage than it has to be.


Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, William Bridges