How to Make People Trust You

If you were to take the title of this post literally it would be my shortest post ever. That’s because you cannot MAKE someone, anyone, trust you. That’s not within your control.

But what is within your control is making yourself trustworthy. You have control over doing things that people will feel makes you a safe bet in the trust area. You also have control, complete control, over not doing things that would cause people to lose trust in you.

If you want to be seen as trustworthy then you must honor your commitments. You must do what you say you will do and you must do it when you said you would. Every time you fail in this area you cast doubt on the next commitment you make. It doesn’t take long before your commitments are worthless. Remember that…it doesn’t take long.

Be honest. Obviously not lying requires you to tell the truth. Being honest is more than not lying. Being honest requires that you tell the entire truth. Hiding details that matter is lying. Very often being completely honest is very difficult. If you have a dictionary handy check out the definition of difficult. Then look up the definition of impossible. You’ll see that “difficult” is not the same as impossible. So be honest if you want to be trustworthy.

Be timely. Said another way, show up when you said you would. Always! Punctuality matters and calling ahead from your cell phone to say “you’re running late” is a poor substitute to honoring another person’s time by being on time yourself. If people can’t trust you with something as basic as being on time they will doubt everything else about you as well. They really will.

Only tell your secrets. Most people love it when someone tells them a secret. They love it so much that they can’t wait to tell the secret to someone else. Don’t be a quidnunc. If someone trusts you enough to share their secret with you then keep it a secret. There probably isn’t a faster way to destroy the trust of someone than to share something they told you in confidence.

Remember, the people you gossip with today are the same people who will gossip about you tomorrow. A quidnunc is a person who loves to gossip. Are you one of those? Nobody likes to admit to gossiping but most everybody gossips. Want to destroy trust? Gossip. It’s like a nuclear bomb to trust.

Admit when you’re wrong. It’s almost funny when someone who is clearly wrong refuses to admit it. Almost funny. If you don’t have the confidence in yourself required to admit you’re wrong then how can anyone else have confidence in you? Dale Carnegie said, “when you’re wrong admit it quickly and emphatically.” Admitting to a mistake or admitting to being wrong about something you said is a trust builder. People won’t have to double check you because they know you’re double checking yourself.

Trust is the basis for all successful relationships. But even the strongest trust is fragile. It needs constant attention and effort. You can’t make someone trust you but you can make it easy for them not to.

The good news is you can also make it easier for them to see you as someone they should trust. It takes effort, it takes time, it takes consistency, and it takes intentionality.

You have what it takes to be trustworthy. The question is, will you do what it takes?

Earning Trust – Part One

Trust is essential for leadership. Whether you’re attempting to lead people who work for you, or across from you or even above you in your organization you must have their trust in order to lead them.

You earn, or not, the level of trust other people place in you. There are some people who have a default mindset that says to trust everyone until they show themselves to be untrustworthy. But most people are more skeptical and don’t trust someone until they have proven themselves trustworthy.

The contradiction there is that the best way to know whether someone is trustworthy is to trust them.

The trust you need to lead, or even to build a strong relationship requires time to build, sometimes a very long time. But you can lose that trust very quickly and you can lose it in several ways. You can lose it by not following through on your commitments. You can lose it by lying. You can lose it by sharing information that was given to you in confidence.

I’m good with those first two…not always so good with that last one. I can’t honestly recall ever sharing something told to me when I was specifically asked not to. When I’ve been told that something was being shared with me in confidence I’ve closely held that information.

It’s when I wasn’t specifically told that something was being shared in confidence that I’ve gotten myself in trouble. I would love to say that’s okay because I wasn’t told not to tell anyone else but it’s not okay. Unless you’re a complete idiot you know, or you should know, what’s appropriate to share and what’s not. You shouldn’t have to be told. Neither should I.

Failing to protect information shared with you in confidence, whether implied or stated, is one of the fastest ways to lose trust. Even if you only tell one other person you’ve broken the trust of the person who originally shared that information with you. If the person you told tells other people then you’re responsible for all those people knowing too. It’s a pretty big screw up.

Benjamin Franklin said “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.” You might want to keep that quote in mind if you’re ever tempted to share something that was told to you in confidence.

The good news is that trust can be rebuilt. It isn’t easy but if you’re interested it is possible. In my next post I’ll share several steps you can take to build trust and rebuild trust if you’ve lost it. There won’t be any secrets there, if fact I’ll bet you’ve heard them all before…the question is, are you doing them?

Does Trust Really Matter?

I heard the Secretary of State for the United States give an interview the other day. He said that “we” don’t always get to choose who the United States negotiates with. He said some of the people the US government talks to are pretty awful people. He also said it doesn’t matter if they are trusted or not, we still have to talk to them. 

 

That makes me glad I’m not in government. I get to choose not to talk to or do business with people I don’t trust. I hope that is true for you as well. 

 

It’s also true of most people you know. If you want to be trusted you’ll need to earn it. There are some people who freely give their trust to anyone until it’s proven a person can’t be trusted. These days however the people who make you earn their trust far outnumber those who give it freely. 

 

How do you earn trust? Well the simplest way is to do what you say you will. Always! Tell the truth. Always! When the truth is hard to tell you must tell the truth anyway. Always!

 

Building trust and credibility takes time. 

 

And sincere effort.

 

The fundamental beginning to developing trust is being genuinely interested in other people. Asking pertinent questions while listening with complete attention demonstrates that they matter to you. It shows their importance in your life. It reflects your interest in developing a real relationship with them. 

 

It really is just that simple.

 

Trust matters. If you’re a leader and your people don’t trust you then they absolutely will not follow you. If you’re in sales and people don’t trust you they will go to great lengths to buy from someone else. 

 

When people in general don’t trust you then you miss out on the deep relationships that make life so meaningful. 


Don’t expect people to trust you because you think you’re trustworthy. Make the effort to build trust every time you interact with another human being. It’s worth the effort because trust matters in everything you do.

Invest in Trust

All leadership is based on trust. If someone doesn’t trust you they simply will not be committed to truly following you. They might comply with you, they may do what you tell them to do, they may even kind of like you but they will not commit to you.

 

Building trust takes time. When I hear someone say “you must earn the right to lead” what I really think they are saying is “you need to build some trust before anyone will actually follow you.”

     

Authentic leaders know that their title or position does little in the way of building trust. People don’t trust titles, they don’t trust positions, and they don’t trust names. People trust people.

     

Trust building must be intentional. It should happen every day. If you’re a leader, or someone in a leadership position, (of course you know that holding a leading position doesn’t mean you’re actually a leader) then you should be aware that your people are watching you. They want to see if your actions match your words. They want to see if you honor your commitments, and not just to them but to others as well. If they are going to trust you then they expect you to honor your commitments, period.

     

Every leader, every person really, has what I call a “credibility bank.” Every time we do what we say we will a small deposit is made into our bank. Every time we fail to do what we say we will do a large withdrawal is taken from our bank.

     

If that doesn’t seem fair get over it. Building trust takes time and real trust doesn’t come easy for most people. The next time you’re tempted to blow off a commitment just remember your credibility bank and maybe the temptation will pass.

     

If trust building must be intentional as I’ve already said it must, then how do you plan to go about it? Seriously, I’m suggesting to you that you don’t just let trust happen, don’t just assume that people trust you. I’m suggesting that you become intentional in building trust.

     

Take tons of notes about the commitments you’ve made, block time on your calendar to honor those commitments. Return phone calls, answer emails, if you say you’ll do something then by any and all means possible, do it! Always, every time, no exceptions and no excuses. 

     

Virtually everything you say and do sends you to your credibility bank, the only questions is; will you be making a deposit or withdrawal?


Think about that for a while and then get busy adding to your credibility bank!

The High Cost of Low Trust

Trust is hard to come by today. In the United States the two people who will compete for the Presidency this fall are the least trusted candidates ever to run for that high office. 

Laws are put in place basically to combat lack of trust. U.S. Federal regulations cost businesses the equivalent of a little more than 10% of the gross domestic product. Lack of trust is truly expensive.

When trust is low within an organization then every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision is doubted, slowing things down and increasing costs. Some research shows that a lack of trust can as much as triple the time it takes to accomplish anything worthwhile.

Building trust and credibility should be a daily activity for all leaders. Just because you have trust today doesn’t mean you always will. Trust must be constantly nurtured. Assuming that you are trusted simply because you consider yourself trustworthy is an all too common mistake for leaders. 

There are many actions that a leader can take to build trust on a daily basis, here are just a few.

Be a straight talker. Use tact, be polite, and show compassion. But when something needs to be said then say it. Say it in a way that won’t be misunderstood. Ask a question or two to verify that the message you intended to convey is the message that was heard. Assume 100% responsibility for the effectiveness of your communications, after all, you have the audacity to call yourself a leader. So don’t make someone else responsible for understanding something you said.

Admit when you’re wrong. Leaders can be wrong, just like every other human being on earth. Dale Carnegie said, “when you’re wrong admit it quickly and emphatically.” That is an important principle for leaders to keep in mind. Trying to hide a mistake is often a bigger mistake than the mistake you’re trying to hide.

Be trusting. If you want other people to trust you then you need to trust other people as well. I recently had a conversation with someone who told me that they would never “just trust” someone. They said that trust had to be earned. They said that they “tested” people by asking them to do little things, the kind of things that it didn’t really matter if they were done or not. The people were not told they were being tested with meaningless tasks. 

When I said it seemed to me that they might be deceiving people to determine if they were trustworthy I was told that “you can’t be honest with people you don’t trust.” That my friends is some messed up thinking and the kind of thinking that will certainly kill trust. 

The only honest way I know of to find out if someone is trustworthy is to trust them, really trust them. If you’re a leader and you want people to trust you then you must trust them first. It is called leading for a reason, you need to trust first.

Those are but a few of the many actions a leader must take daily to build trust. Clearly one of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is to assume they are trusted just because of their title or position. 

Actually, in today’s environment the opposite is more often true.

Forgotten Trust

If your people can’t trust you then they can’t follow you either. Notice I didn’t say “won’t” follow you, I said “can’t.”

They can’t because to truly follow a leader there must be an emotional commitment. Subconsciously we humans can’t make ourselves commit to a person we don’t trust. There will always be a level of skepticism that acts as a barrier to true commitment.

Through the years I’ve seen many very good leaders work hard to earn the trust of their people. Despite their efforts they often fail to earn that trust because they forget one vital step in earning the trust of others.

They forget that if they want their people to trust them they must first trust their people. Just like it’s really hard to like someone who doesn’t like you it is very hard to trust someone who doesn’t trust you. (If you’re someone who claims to be a leader then don’t you dare say that you’ll trust your people when they first trust you…you’re the leader, not them.)

Leaders can tell their people they trust them but if their actions, policies, procedures, and programs don’t demonstrate that trust their people will know the truth. 

They are not actually trusted. 

Authentic Servant Leaders demonstrate trust by allowing their people to make decisions and by allowing them to take on a certain level of well thought out and considered risk. Trust is also demonstrated by applying accountability practices in a positive fashion, not a punitive fashion. 

The difference between positive and punitive accountability can be tough to define but your team members most certainly can feel the difference. When an Authentic Servant Leader holds their people to a high standard of performance their people excel. When someone who is seen as a mere boss tries to hold their people accountable their people most often rebel.  

The difference is that an Authentic Servant Leader has a history of showing they care and at best a boss merely says they care. It’s all in the words and tone that you use to hold your people accountable. 

If you want your people to truly follow you then you must work everyday to earn their trust and you must do more than say you trust them, you must show it. 

One more thought …. it is not your people’s responsibility to figure out whether or not you trust them. It is your responsibility as a leader to make that fact so crystal clear that it is completely obvious to all who would follow.

If you have the audacity to call yourself a leader then step up and lead, be a person they will want to follow and a person they are able to follow. 

Be a person they can trust by never forgetting to demonstrate that you trust them first.

Trusted Leadership

Congratulations on having a big shot sounding title or a lofty position at some company. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’ve worked hard to earn your position and I’m also going to give you some advice: don’t screw it up.

Don’t screw it up by assuming that any title or position can make you a leader. Positions don’t make someone a leader and neither does a title. Saying you’re a leader doesn’t make you a leader either. 

In fact there is only one thing that can truly make you a leader and that’s followers. If no one is following you then you may occupy a leadership position but you are most certainly not a leader.

The privilege to lead, and make no mistake, leading is a privilege, cannot be given through promotion. The privilege to lead must be earned and it must be earned everyday.

People don’t follow positions or titles they follow people. Therefore, do not aspire to a position that people will have to follow. Aspire to be the type of person they will want to follow. 

If you’re wondering what makes a person “followable” (did I just make up another new word?) then just ask look at the people you’ve considered to be good leaders in your life.

Most likely you trusted them. I say that because people want, actually people need, a leader they can trust. Leadership without trust is like a car without gas, it might look nice but it doesn’t go anywhere. 

To build trust you should know, you need to know and you must know that everything you say and do either adds to or subtracts from your credibility. It all counts, every last word and action. If you’re not ready or willing to live under that kind of magnifying glass then perhaps you’re not ready to lead. 

The good news is that you don’t have to be perfect to lead; there are no perfect leaders on earth. But some leaders are better than others and one key thing that makes them better leaders is that more times than not, many more times in fact, their words and their actions match. 

To be a leader you must have a follower and for someone to be a true follower they must be committed to you as a leader. You should never believe, even for a moment that someone will commit to you if they can’t trust you. They may “follow from the edges” but that’s not at all the same as commitment. You must be clear on that fact or you’ll fool yourself into thinking you’re leading when you’re not.

Leadership works best when the leader sees the word trust as a verb rather than a noun. 

How do you see trust?