Four Ways to Build Trust

Hogan Assessment Systems

Monday, September 19, 2016
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There is a crisis of trust in the business world. According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, a global survey of 33,000 people, almost one in three people don't trust their employer.

That's bad news for business. Countless studies show that employees' trust in their leaders is tied to business outcomes like employee engagement, employee satisfaction, productivity and how honest employees behave.

So, how can you seem more trustworthy without losing the benefit of seeming leader-like to your bosses, peers and subordinates? Here are four ways to build more trust:

Be More Boring

Many of us have a romantic view of the creative, eccentric leader -- à la Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg or Richard Branson. But while these individuals are interesting to read about, working for them can be a nightmare.

"It's almost an insult to call someone predictable," Hogan Assessments CEO Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic wrote in a post for Fast Company. "It implies they're simple and boring. But predictability is a major ingredient in trustworthiness. People who tend to be very creative and spontaneous may have trouble getting others to trust them simply because it's genuinely harder to predict what they'll do next."

"The more consistently you behave, and the more congruence there is between what you say and what you do, the more transparent and trustworthy you'll appear to others," wrote Chamorro-Premuzic.

The key to seeming more trustworthy is making sure what you say lines up with what you actually do. For most people, there is a gap between how they think of themselves and how they actually behave. As a result, they often seem to say one thing and do another.

Be More Empathetic

Although predictability is most important for seeming trustworthy, you don't get any points for predictably being terrible toward the people around you.

That need for trust carries through to modern organizations. People depend on their leaders and employers to have their best interests at heart, and in every interaction we have with others, we are subconsciously judging their intentions based on how warm and friendly they seem.

Be More Resilient

Modern business changes at remarkable speed, and that instability can cause stress and disengagement among employees. Leaders who maintain their cool in a crisis seem more trustworthy to their employees.

Being resilient and calm under pressure depend on high emotional intelligence, or EQ. Although for years the term EQ was a huge buzzword in the HR community -- a sexy alternative to IQ -- studies show that people with high EQ are actually quite boring: they are emotionally stable rather than neurotic; agreeable rather than argumentative; and prudent rather than reckless. The epitome of someone with high EQ is a person who never loses his/her temper -- even when deliberately provoked -- and maintains a calm and positive outlook on life.

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Be More Humble

Nobody really likes to admit it, but the ugly truth is that self-promotion is an essential skill for getting ahead in most modern organizations.

"Many of us like to think of modesty and humility as positive attributes, but our workplaces tend to punish people for displaying them," says Chamorro-Premuzic. "Much of the time, being modest only leads to success when others already see you as competent. Otherwise they may write off your humility as insecurity."

The key, says Chamorro-Premuzic, is to make sure you match your modesty with your actual level of competence.

"False modesty is only effective in obviously talented people," he says. "When your competence is beyond question, it implies that you're better than you allow yourself to admit. In fact, when two people are seen as equally competent, the more modest of them is typically more likable."

Walking the Line

The key to seeming trustworthy is managing impressions. Almost everyone tries to manage the impressions we make on others. We pay attention to our hygiene and appearance, we show up to work on time, and we do our best not to offend our co-workers. But not everyone is equally successful. Seeming more trustworthy while still appearing to be a natural leader is a thin line to walk, and requires a tremendous level of self-awareness.

"Ultimately, what matters most -- in practice, anyway -- is not how ethical you think you are, but what others think," says Chamorro-Premuzic. "Of course, that doesn't mean it's okay to feign ethical behavior only to secretly flout it. But it does mean that appearances matter more than we tend to imagine."


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