Trust in the Workplace: It Takes Both Humility and Vulnerability

We know trust when we see it.

It has a significant impact on every interaction. It’s the foundation of all of our relationships, work and personal.

Some research indicates a lack of trust in the workplace, especially during tough economic times, or when an organization is struggling. One poll by Maritz found:

  • 11 percent of employees strongly agreed their managers show consistency between their words and actions
  • 7 percent of employees strongly agreed they trust senior leaders to look out for their best interest.

Trust requires a healthy dose of vulnerability and humility — something all leaders can benefit from.

It’s often the small things we do, or the words we use, that strengthens or diminishes trust over time.

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Subtle language that breeds mistrust

  • Oops. I’m late again.
  • Give me a second and let me just answer this email first.
  • Sorry it took me so long to respond.
  • I don’t know why they insist on always …”
  • It’s time to reorganize again.”
  • This isn’t that big of a change.”
  • It’s their fault, not ours.”
  • No issues. Everything is perfectly on track.”
  • They never get it right.”

Subtle language that breeds trust

  • These are the issues and this is how I will resolve them.”
  • I am interested in hearing your opinion.”
  • Next time, I’ll do ____ differently.”
  • You have my undivided attention.”
  • I can understand why this must be frustrating for you.”
  • “I am committed to starting and ending this meeting on-time.
  • What holes can you poke in my assumptions?
  • This is where I could use some advice.”

In his book, The Speed of Trust, author Stephen Covey identifies 13 behaviors that build and maintain trust in any situation:

  1. Talk straight;
  2. Demonstrate respect;
  3. Create transparency;
  4. Right wrongs;
  5. Show loyalty;
  6. Deliver results;
  7. Get better;
  8. Confront reality;
  9. Clarify expectation;
  10. Practice accountability;
  11. Listen first;
  12. Keep commitments;
  13. Extend trust.

Trust is difficult to build, yet easy to destroy. Pay attention to and shift your language — and watch the cycle of mistrust chip away.

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.

Marta Steele is a Partner at PeopleResults and a change and human resources consultant, having served in diverse internal and external consulting roles for over 16 years. Prior to People Results, Marta was affiliated with Accenture where she held leadership positions in a number of successful large-scale people initiatives. Connect with her on Twitter at or via email at