Work & Career
16 Smart Ways You Can Get Your Boss to Trust You
Developing trust between you and your boss will make you a better worker, and you’ll likely end up with the freedom to take on bigger assignments.
Review your job description together
You might be excelling at your personal goals, but that won’t help if you and your boss define success differently, says A. Roger Merrill, consultant and author of Talent Unleashed: 3 Leadership Conversations to Ignite the Unlimited Potential in People. Ask your manager if to go over his or her expectations and what your most important tasks are. “As you talk it over, you’ll almost always find some discrepancies,” Merrill says. “You can work hard and your boss thinks you’re not doing a job, not because you’re untrustworthy but because you’re not on the same page.” Don’t make it a one-time conversation either—keep an ongoing dialogue to make sure you’re hitting all your boss’s goals for you, Merrill says. Start on the right foot before getting an offer by avoiding these 15 body language mistakes you make during job interviews.
Make concrete goals
Discuss goals with your boss that are action-oriented rather than outcome-oriented so that you can prove you’re making measurable steps to help the company, says Paul Zak, PhD, author of Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High Performance Companies. “If I say to increase sales, it’s so vague that it’s a chronic stressor,” he says. “But if I say the goal is to make five more sales calls per week, that’s an action I can take and document and be really transparent about.”
Explore solutions before asking for help
There’s nothing wrong with asking for help—a good boss will be more than happy to assist so you and the company can succeed. But instead of just saying, “I’m stumped,” and expecting your boss to come up with an answer, brainstorm some possibilities and pick the solution you’re leaning toward before you talk, says Joel Peterson, MBA, chairman of JetBlue Airways and author of The 10 Laws of Trust. “It’s way more constructive because your boss can see you’ve really looked at the alternatives,” he says. “You’re not just asking for help—you’ve done a lot of the thinking, and now you just want input.” Learn how to spot 18 signs that you have a terrible boss.
Fess up to your mistakes
Resist the urge to cover up your faults, and come clean to your boss without making up excuses or trying to shift the blame to other people. Otherwise, you’ll be in way more trouble if your boss figures out what happens. “Blaming subordinates or other people on the team for a loss is a waste of time and energy, and destroys trust and morale,” Peterson says. “People are less willing to take risks and rely on each other.” Here’s how to bounce back from a bad performance review.
Don’t repeat errors
You’re bound to slip up at some point—you are human, after all—which is why no boss will expect you to be perfect. The key is to make different mistakes rather than repeating the same ones over and over, says Hayes Drumwright, CEO of POPin and author of Management vs. Employees: How Leaders Can Bridge the Power Gaps That Hurt Corporate Performance. “My goal would be to want people to know where I messed up and failed,” he says. “That turns a negative into a positive in a big way.”
Take assignments you’ve failed at before
Even if you’ve made mistakes on a similar project in the past, continue taking on difficult assignments. “People tend to resist taking risks that they’ve taken where they’ve been unsuccessful,” Peterson says. “If it was from a failure of results and you’d tried hard and were honest, there shouldn’t be a reason not to trust again.” Learn from your failure and let the desire to improve fuel your excitement to try again.
Learn to speak your boss’s language
iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund
If your boss is a linear thinker and you’re more of a right-brain type, you might find there’s a disconnect between you. For instance, while you might gravitate toward big ideas, your boss might need to see the hard numbers and results to understand your perspective. Pay attention to what your boss tends to zero in on, and adjust your focus to fit in with those priorities. “Watch and listen to the kinds of things that are important to that person,” Merrill says. “Don’t change what you say, because that’s not integrity, but say it in a way that would be meaningful.” These magic phrases can make anyone trust you.
Be a good listener
Making eye contact when you’re talking to your boss shows you’re listening, so resist the temptation to glance down at your phone. “Take your phone, turn it off, and put it in the middle of the table. Don’t even get distracted,” Dr. Zak says. “Have your boss think she’s the only person in the room.” Find out how to use body language to build trust.
Get the rest of the team on your side
iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund
Getting support from your coworkers before pitching something to your boss will help ensure that your manager listens. Your boss will know you’re not the lone person who thinks an idea will succeed, and you can get help working through potential problems before bringing it up to your supervisor. “Leadership has a tough time telling the difference between the vocal minority and the common group,” Drumwright says. “Make sure that half the department agrees with the idea.”
Take off some of the stress
Talking about feelings might seem too personal for the office, but paying attention to your boss’s emotions can strengthen your relationship. “We trust people who we feel connected to emotionally,” Dr. Zak says. If your boss seems particularly busy or frazzled, ask if there’s anything you can do to take the stress off, he says.
Ask your boss to meet for a hypothetical “postmortem” discussion before you even start a project. Frame it as if the project failed and you’re figuring out what might have gone wrong. That way, you can find solutions before those problems arise. “He would know I’m thinking forward and thinking of what the issues are before it rolls out,” Drumwright says. “Any good boss will appreciate that.” But watch out for these signs you can’t trust your boss.
Warn your boss of obstacles as they come
When you can sense you’re getting behind schedule or creeping over your budget, don’t wait to bring it up to your boss. “People sometimes overpromise. But more often than not, it’s that they don’t adjust their expectations along the way,” Peterson says. “If you spring it on somebody, that destroys trust, but if you bring them in as you move along the path, they aren’t surprised and can own the solution.” Share your concerns with your boss, along with your ideas on how to get back on track. Don’t miss these rules successful people break.
Ask before giving your opinion
When you disagree with a decision your boss is making, respectfully ask to share your views instead of blurting out what’s wrong with your manager’s choice. Often, your boss be happy to get a second opinion, but other times he or she might not care to hear your disapproval. “Sometimes they’ll say they don’t want the input. Just ask them,” Merrill says.
Be a trustworthy follower
While your boss will likely appreciate feedback if you see problems with the company’s strategy, accept the direction he or she chooses to go, even if you don’t agree with it. Instead of saying, “I told you so,” continue working hard to make the final decision work. “Give feedback, and take your boss on when you need to, but always come through when the final decision is made,” Merrill says.
Cut the gossip
You might think your boss made a horrible decision, but you probably don’t know all the factors that played into that choice. Quit complaining with coworkers behind your manager’s back, and instead focus your energy on finding success with that strategy. “Without understanding the tradeoffs, you’re becoming part of the problem instead of part of the solution,” Peterson says. Here are some more “innocent” things you do at work that you could end up getting fired for.
Be a copy cat
“We trust people who behave like us more,” Dr. Zak says. “We most naturally do this kind of by mimicking behavior.” When you’re talking to your boss, subtly copy his or her body language. For instance, if your boss leans back or crosses his or her legs, wait a few seconds and do the same, Dr. Zak says. Just avoid these 15 things your boss wishes you would stop saying.