3 Simple Steps to Build Trust with Your Team

3 Simple Steps to Build Trust with Your Team

Late one winter afternoon, I was working in my office on a complex presentation I was delivering the next day to my boss’s boss. It had been a long day, with back-to-back calls and no time for lunch. I was running on empty.

Just as it was getting dark outside, one of my team members stopped in my office doorway and asked, “Do you have a minute?”

Here’s where I went wrong.

I turned and said in a not-so-patient tone, “Is it urgent, because I’ve had a really long day.” She responded with, “Oh, sorry to interrupt. We can talk later,” and left to go home.

I completely shut the conversation down before it even started.

A few days later I learned that my colleague stopped by to offer her help on a critical deadline that was important to both of us. While it was unfortunate that I responded so aburptly, the good news was that she gave me some much-needed feedback about how I show up under stress. We ended up having a great conversation about that brief interaction.

Here’s the lesson to take from this all-too-common occurrence.

Trust is built when people feel heard, respected, and valued. For many, trust needs to be earned. Once it’s established, little slips in behavior may be overlooked and understood, but if trust is weak, even a small slip can be costly.

In my story, my colleague was a new team member, and I hadn’t built trust with her when this interaction took place. We didn’t really know each other yet, and my behavior left her feeling that I was unapproachable, and worse yet, that I didn’t care about her.

So how do you ensure you are showing up in a way that makes people feel heard, valued, and respected?

It’s simple: Pause, Breath, and Listen.

This simple three-step approach not only builds trust, it also increases the likelihood for your colleagues or team to bring you in on issues before they become bigger problems. If you have a reputation of being unapproachable, you’ll likely be the last to hear about the important stuff. Approachability is key to being in the know.

While it isn’t practical to set aside everything every time a team member stops in or calls, it’s important to take a breath and listen to what they need as often as you can. Taking a few deep breaths helps you to feel calm and present. You don’t know if it’s something urgent if you don’t take a pause to listen.

If I had the opportunity to redo the interaction with my colleague over again, and I followed my own advice here, it might go something like this.

My colleague says: “Do you have a minute?”
I respond (after taking a deep, calming breath): “Hey, good to see you. It’s been a busy day for me. How about you?”
She says: “We have the budget deadline coming up. I know you’re busy, so I wanted to offer to take the lead on it.”
Hearing this would make me feel grateful, and lighten my load, so I’d say: “Wow, am I glad you stopped by. Thank you so much!”

There’s a big difference between those two scenarios. The first one — the interaction that happened in real life — could have been a situation that lead to team conflict, a major loss of trust, and an unhappy work environment.

The scenario of how I would have relived this encounter creates trusts. It strengthens relationships and the shared effort builds up the team as a whole.

I was lucky that I was able to reconnect and work through the encounter with my colleague. Talking it through allowed me to grow as a leader and adjust my working style so that I’d be more patient and open, even in the busiest time. And my colleague was able to use her voice and speak up when she felt pushed away.

Don’t underestimate the importance of these three simple steps.

Pause. Breath, and Listen.

Trust will make or break your relationships. Pausing can accelerate your results. But you won’t know what’s happening unless you listen!

These three steps are vital to building trust, and easy for you to put into action.

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