The Simplest Way to Build Trust

The best-performing teams have a high degree of trust. It just makes everything easier: it reduces politics, reduces process, and increases speed.

What Is Trust?

There are many ways of defining and breaking down trust. Perhaps the easiest is to break trust down into two dimensions:

  • Competency: Your trust in someone’s ability to competently achieve their goals.
  • Motivation/Incentive: Your trust that someone’s goals and motivations align with yours.

What’s the difference? Imagine you have a friend who needs to leave a young child with one of two grandparents:

  • Grandparent A: In good health, both mentally and physically. Can chase a child around, pick them up if necessary. Will notice if the child is about to do something dangerous. But, likes to spoil the child and won’t respect your friend’s rules and boundaries (and will openly admit to that). Might give them sugar and treats.
  • Grandparent B: Not so good health. Cannot chase a child and pick them up in case of danger. Suffering from some dementia where their memory isn’t working quite well. But will respect any boundaries the parent asks them—if they can remember them.

Your friend loves both grandparents deeply. Does she trust them? She has high competency trust for Grandparent A, but potentially low incentive trust. She has low competency trust for Grandparent B, but high incentive trust.

For other examples of high competency / low incentive trust situations, imagine a really good car salesperson. You know they are very competent at selling cars, but their incentives are generally the opposite of yours. Or a large bank. You trust their competency to keep your money (otherwise, you’d keep it under your mattress). But you don’t trust their incentives—they’re charging you hidden fees and what not.

The Easiest Way to Build Trust

In a work environment, both of those trust dimensions are at play. And you need both.

Now, there are many ways to build trust. Some rely on deep evolutional biology. Some are complex, and some seem gimmick-y (for example, finding similarity even if that similarity is just synchronizing body language or tapping to a beat of a song).

A lot of trust-building techniques only build one of the two dimensions. For instance, showing empathy and care can build motivation trust, but may not build competency trust (in fact, some biases/cultures unfortunately perceive too much care/empathy as a sign of lack of competency or weakness). Or you can use displays of competency to build that dimension, but that can be perceived as showing off or arrogance—hence undermining motivation trust.

So what’s the easiest way to build both types of trust, quickly, with no gimmicks or complicated maneuvers? It’s dead obvious, and most people know it—they just don’t do it well.

Commit to doing something, then do it.

It’s that easy. And you can start with small things, like “I will give you an update tomorrow about X” and build up to more complicated things, like “I will deliver this entire project this quarter”.

What happens if you can’t deliver? It happens. The answer is simple, too: Let the person you committed to know you can’t deliver, as soon as possible. Don’t use excuses. Just explain why you thought you could get something done, and why you didn’t. Avoid negative surprises.

Why does this work?

  1. It shows that you are competent. You are able to deliver something you can commit to.
  2. It shows that you are honest. You are willing to deliver something you can commit to.

Again, it’s that simple. There’s a lot more to building trust and collaborating, but 90% of the time I’ve dealt with a trust issue at work, committing and delivering will be the first step.

And this doesn’t work within your company or team—it works really well with external companies as well, as well as personal relationships. Commit, and deliver.

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