A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

8 Ways to Build Trust with Your Coworkers

Updated: Jan. 20, 2023

Generally, one-third of our days are spent at work. This work environment can either enhance or diminish employee morale and productivity. Learning how to build trust with coworkers can improve efficiency, attitude, and confidence. Use these tips from experts on how to build trust in your workplace.

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iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

Pick a positive environment

The most talented people in any industry are in demand and have options where they want to work. “A high-trust environment fosters what some call psychological safety, resulting in a more open and collaborative work culture,” explains Robert Bruce Shaw, managing principal Princeton MCG, a consulting firm in Princeton, New Jersey and author of Trust in the Balance and Extreme Teams. “Research suggests that psychology safety is a key to success particularly at a team level.”

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Demonstrate concern

“Trust operates on multiple levels: at a company level in terms of culture, at a team level in regard to the relationships among the members, and at an interpersonal level between two people,” Shaw says. By showing you care about your colleagues, others will begin to trust and a relationship of mutual trust can build. Try one of these 11 non-awkward ways to make small talk.

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Be self-revealing

Within limits, sharing a bit about who you are can be extremely helpful. “Especially for leaders or managers, sharing a story about a time you may have failed and what you learned from it can make you seem more human, not perfect, and certainly builds camaraderie and trust,” says Ruth Sherman, founder and president Ruth Sherman Associates LLC, in Greenwich, Connecticut, and author of Speakrets® The 30 Best, Most Essential, Most Overlooked Marketing & Personal Branding Essentials.

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Strive for competency

“Employees should strive to be seen as competent in their role,” said Ryan Outlaw, PhD, assistant professor of management at Indiana University Kelley School of Business. “This means having the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities in his or her area.” Outlaw also says employees should maintain a core set of values held by others in the organization. “For example, if other employees arrive early and leave late, does that employee do the same? These sorts of behaviors suggest value congruence. Employees should focus on their competence, values, and benevolence in order to build trust,” he adds.

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iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

Manage expectations

Michelle Reina, PhD, co-founder of Reina, a trust building consultancy in Stowe, Vermont says employees should manage expectations appropriately and ensure others have appropriate support. “Set realistic expectations and trust in the competence of others,” advises Reina. “Make implicit expectations explicit, and strive for clarity regarding what you expect from others and what they expect from you.” If you love your coworkers, get them one of these appropriate gifts.

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Establish boundaries

Boundaries provide points of connection and opportunities for collaboration. “To clarify boundaries, clearly define roles and responsibilities and be sure that people understand what they are responsible for,” Reina says. “Take the guesswork out of knowing what individuals and teams do and why they do it.”

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Set an example

Employees should model the behavior that they seek from others, says Carol L. Kardas, SPHR, CCP, SHRM-SCP, founding partner with KardasLarson, a human resources consulting firm in Glastonbury, Connecticut. This means listen and consider others’ ideas with an open mind; focus on the issues at hand and don’t dwell on personalities; and be respectful of all employees. To that end, the Washington Post explains the pivotal role for success by example in a recent article. “The leader has to serve as a role model. He or she has to be seen as credible (i.e., doing what he/she says they will do, keeping commitments, keeping confidential information private and not talking badly about employees in front of others).”

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Understand the role of emailing

A Time magazine article explores how perpetual electronic communications can make workers feel disconnected and cited a study where two groups are compared. “So even if a colleague is working hard, his e-mail correspondent doesn’t know it and is thus less likely to work hard himself. In the study, the groups who met by videoconference did better than the e-mailers, who tended to shirk their responsibilities—suggesting that visual cues are key for trust,” the article said. If you work virtually, show up in person for key meetings as much as possible. Want to get ever further in your career? You’ll need to know the 16 ways to get your boss to trust you.