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Building Trust as a Leader

Watch for opportunities to develop a working level of trust with others in your association and your neighborhood. How can you apply these proven principles for increasing trust?

This is the seventh article in a series on collaboration and conflict resolution. Read the introduction to the entire series.

  • Promote Effective Communication: Increase the quantity and quality of interpersonal communication. Suspicion and fear thrive in the absence of communication. Remain calm and respectful. This behavior provides a model that others can follow. Take time to check on perceptions. Confirm that messages have been received and interpreted correctly. Arrange settings that are conducive to good communication. For example, set up chairs so everyone can see each other’s faces when they are speaking; choose meeting rooms with reasonable acoustics; use easel pads to take public notes that confirm key points and help others see and understand better. Use facilitators and mediators when needed.
  • Be Honest: Even in the most cynical, 'hard-nosed' settings where mistrust is a given, veteran observers know that it is fundamental to preserve credibility by being honest and trustworthy.
  • Offer Unconditional 'No Frills' Respect: What needs to be communicated is that everyone has a human right to receive basic courtesy and civility. This does not imply agreement or approval of someone. It is not necessary to like or even respect an individual to treat him or her with courtesy and civility.
  • Be Reliable and Predictable: Reliability means keeping your word/commitments. Follow through. When you say you will do something, make sure it happens. If you cannot, let her know at the earliest opportunity. Predictability means no surprises. People often dislike surprises more than bad news. If there is going to be a change, let him know in advance. Remember: Always Consult Before Deciding. Even when it is your decision, check with others to hear their input.
  • Admit Mistakes and Acknowledge Risks: 'Fess up' about omissions or things that should or could have been done better. Be candid about uncertainties or risks instead of overselling or pretending that the situation is without risk or doubt.
"Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships." Stephen R. Covey, Author, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People
  • Acknowledge Emotional 'Data’: A strong individual or group feeling in response to an action or event is often connected to their sense of identity. When a person is repeating himself, this may indicate that he does not feel heard. To deny, criticize, or ignore how people feel can send a message of disrespect. When someone communicates strong feelings, summarize or acknowledge her point of view to let her know she has been heard. This is different than agreeing with her.
  • Try 'Confidence-Building' Measures: When there is little trust, don't overload the situation by working toward agreements that require trust or risk-taking. Find ‘do-ables’ which are lower-risk activities that allow people to experience each other while cooperatively working side-by-side. This can build confidence about the possibility of more ambitious agreements.
  • Take Symbolic Action: Consider ways to signal the other side that you are willing to act positively without preconditions or the assurance of anything in return. This could be something like a modest unilateral concession, a conciliatory gesture, delegation of some authority, or a public apology.
  • Deal with Problematic Conduct: Treat difficult or bad behavior as a joint problem, not a crime. Separate the people from the problem by focusing on the behavior, not the person. Find a good time and place to discuss the behavior that does not cause the person to lose face or react defensively.