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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

3 Little Words That Will Transform Your Work Relationships

A few years ago, I worked with a woman named Angela, who managed a program that was interdependent with the one I was involved with. Though we didn’t have a reporting relationship, our mutual success was clearly dependent on our ability to collaborate.

It was one of the most difficult working relationships I’ve ever experienced—and an extremely stressful one. As I reflect back on that time, I realize there was one major ingredient missing from our collaboration. The problem was we never whispered those three little words that everyone wants to hear from their closest co-workers:

“I trust you.”

The lack of trust was frustrating to my team and me, and it made everything we did so much more difficult: Conversations took longer, coming to an agreement was excruciating (if not impossible), and negotiating everything, from resources to outcomes, was exasperating.

Maybe you’re in a similar situation. Perhaps you know the relationship isn’t quite right, but you’re not sure why it’s so hard to get along. Every meeting seems to erupt in frustration; you sense there’s a hidden agenda alongside the one on the table in front of you.

In The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey suggests that trust is essential for a team to function effectively. When trust is high, performance accelerates. Covey describes it as a leavening agent for performance. And when trust is lacking, the opposite is true. As I found with Angela (and likely, she with me), because we didn’t trust each other, everything took longer, felt harder, and, as a result, cost more—emotionally and financially.

You might think, as I did long ago, that it’s the other person’s responsibility to trust you. But it’s not. It’s your responsibility to invite others to trust in you—and you do this by behaving in way that exemplifies your trustworthiness.

In research at Ohio State University, Roy Lewicki and Edward C. Tomlinson offer a few practical steps to overcome the conflict created by lack of trust. Read on for their suggestions about how to increase others’ trust in you and rectify your working relationships.

Do Your Job Well

Covey says trust is a function of two things: character and competence. Angela and I were certainly competent when it came to doing our respective parts well. However, a big part of our assignment required us to work interdependently, and neither of us was getting that right. People trust others who get stuff done, so when you don’t do your job well—even just a portion of it—it’s harder for people to trust you.

Be Congruent

This is where the character comes in. When your words are aligned with your actions, people will trust you. Angela and I were both saying, “Yes we want to move forward.” But in all honesty, we both feared that the other was trying to muck in our program, so we weren’t doing everything we could to actually move the project forward. That disconnect between our words and our actions caused both of us to seem untrustworthy.

Honor Commitments

Trust is built on a consistent pattern of each of us doing what we say we will do. People watch for this and make assessments about your trustworthiness based on it. (The researchers call this “Do What We Say We Will Do,” or DWWSWWD.) You promised you’d have the report ready by the end of the day, then turn up empty handed? That’s a strike against your credibility.

Communicate Transparently

Remember that hidden agenda perception I mentioned earlier? Yep—total trust killer. When you aren’t transparent about your intentions (e.g., what you’re trying to achieve, what you’re concerned about, or what you really want to accomplish in a project meeting), you negate the others’ ability to trust you.

Be Compassionate Toward Others

Trust grows when you show care and concern for others. For example, I never once asked Angela what kept her up at night. We never discussed the business risk or personal vulnerability we felt as we tried to manage these two huge programs. I see now that a simple conversation like that could have been an incredible bridge builder.

When you have to work interdependently—and in this day and age, who doesn’t?—the degree of trust you have with others can make or break your efforts. If you’re looking for ways to up your performance quotient, reduce your stress level, and get more satisfaction out of your work, look for opportunities to build more trust with those around you.

Photo of letters courtesy of Shutterstock.