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Do Your Employees Trust You?

You are struggling with some issue with a member on your staff. The issue itself is irrelevant, the fact remains that you either side step the real issue when you interact with the employee, or you sugar coat everything you present to them. In contrast, when something goes wrong, you may tell them to get better, fix their problem, or perform the task right next time. The result of both forms of communication continue to fail and you are exasperated trying to get this individual to meet your expectations.

This is where you expect the article to talk about effective communication, but you would be wrong. Instead, we need to dig much deeper and look at a more simplistic construct of interaction between two individuals, and that is their relationship. You have an existing professional relationship with every employee you supervise, and every boss you have, even if you rarely take time to reflect on this reality and take affirmative steps to build an effective one. The strength of your relationship with any individual will impact not only the communication between you both, but the level of trust.

Here we pause to reflect for a moment. Think about the people in your life that you trust, and why you trust them. Parents, family, and caregivers are almost given explicit trust simply because of who they are in relationship to you. Is this similar in the workplace? Does the concept that my boss is who I report to so I must trust them correlate the same as this is my mother and therefore I must respect her?

Absolutely not. In fact, based on the years of working with business leaders and managers I would venture to state too few supervisors take the time to build a trusting professional relationship with their staff. The unfortunate and negative result is a plethora of performance challenges and employee relations issue causing obstacles to business success.

Think about these historic and memorable quotes about trust:

Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none. – William Shakespeare

Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundation principle that holds all relationships. – Stephen Covey

I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you. – Friedrich Nietzsche

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. – Ernest Hemingway

Now that we briefly established effective communication and relationships rely on a level of trust, we need to explain how you establish this trust which will lead to an improved working relationship and ultimately improved performance and success.

Genuine intent. While quite a simple concept, not so easy to implement or demonstrate because of who you are. Demonstrating genuine intent for the wellbeing and success of your employee. This is not the pat on the back, or cheerleading the employee on to be great. This is not false praise or comments to inflate ego to be more productive with a skewed view of actual performance. This is not about telling the employee they should trust you.

Genuine intent is the demonstrated behavior that over time builds and strengthens the level of trust you have in each relationship with your employee. To refer to a principle I teach to every supervisor, manager, and business leader I work with, it is your responsibility as a supervisor to provide your employee the tools, resources, and support they need to be successful. When executing these responsibilities, are you taking every opportunity to engage the employee and demonstrate through your actions that you, above all, truly care about them and their success? Have you let them know through your actions that you are there to help them any way you can to meet their goals and achieve or exceed expectations?

Would the employee even believe you? Here is the crossroad we all face in building this trust, it must be truly genuine and transparent. Employees can quickly determine for themselves if your support lacks any depth or substance, and once lost oftentimes is never regained.

Here are a few strategies to implement to improve your competency as a supervisor in building effective positive and trusting relationships with your employees.

  1. When interacting with your employee, take a moment to ask what you can do for them to improve their ability to accomplish the assigned task or activity.
  2. When conducting a performance discussion, ask the employee for input on what you can do better as a supervisor to aid them in their success.
  3. Communicate and establish mutual purpose and goal.
  4. Do not sugar coat criticism or feedback, instead be direct and set expectations clearly. However, do not stop there. Continue the discussion by adding what you will do for them to aid them in overcoming any challenges or obstacles to achieving the success.
  5. Recognize there is a time and place for emotions, and make a cognitive effort to identify, understand, manage, and use emotions to effectively improve the trust in your relationship.
  6. Help your employee achieve life work balance.
  7. Do not lie to your employee.
  8. Show that you value the human, and demonstrate you value building a trusting relationship.

These gentle reminders of how to build a stronger, more trusting relationship with your employee are not something to implement only after there is a problem. You should establish this foundation during the hiring process and maintain it through separation.

My final words of wisdom for the employee. If you do not trust your supervisor, schedule a meeting with them and ask if they have your best interest at heart in all their interaction with you. I think you will be enlightened by the answer, and have a starting point to establish mutual purpose and goal, and communicate to your supervisor what your expectations are of them in building this critical trust.