The One Step Guide To Building Trust At Work


A reputation for integrity and trustworthiness is worth whatever it may cost to build it. Integrity can make or break your career. 

Building trust at work makes you more likely to be promoted, motivates your peers and subordinates to follow you, and helps you stand out from the crowd. 

Conversely, break trust (even once) by doing the wrong thing and you’ll find that your career, and possibly your life, hits a dead end. No one wants to promote or follow a liar, cheat, and thief (even if they are one themselves).

The Importance of Trust In The Workplace

People don’t generally trust “businesspeople.” A 2020 Gallup poll found that only 17 percent of survey respondents rate the honesty and ethical standards of business executives as high or very high.

If you are trustworthy, you immediately stand out in the population. 

It’s a sad truth, but employers know that almost all employees lie, steal, or cheat to some degree, whether it’s something minor like lifting a felt-tip pen or a more serious issue like padding expense accounts or engaging in fraud.  

As one CEO said, “You are going to get ripped off or swiped from unless you are a Ma and Pa operation and you are the Ma and Pa.”

This is why most CEO’s tell me that the number one quality that gets their attention is trustworthiness. If your boss can trust you, you will be more likely to be considered for promotion and groomed for advancement.

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More importantly, you’ll be able to sleep at night knowing that you have done the right thing. You need not worry about experiencing the inevitable consequences of a life lived without integrity (broken relationships, career sabotage, and in extreme cases, jail).

If you are trustworthy, you immediately stand out in the population.  From The One Step Guide To Building Trust At Work Share on X

The One-Step Guide to Building Trust At Work? Do the Right Thing All The Time

Sign that says "Right" with an arrow to the right and "Wrong" with an arrow to the left

The true test of character is doing the right thing even when no one sees.

Eight days a week you will encounter temptation to break your personal code of conduct and do the wrong thing. 

One college conducted a sting to test cheating. Of the 600 students who took the test, one third cheated. When a student was interviewed about it, he said, “What’s the big deal? Everybody does it all the time.” 

But if you want to build trust at work, then you have to be a person that can be trusted. That means you must do the right thing all day, every day, no matter who is watching or what is happening around you.

The key to building trust at work is consistently doing the right thing.

To do what’s right, you merely make one of two choices in every situation: be honest or be dishonest. That’s it. It’s not complicated.

And you don’t:

  • Intentionally mislead
  • Straddle the line
  • Disseminate false information
  • Break promises
  • Go back on your word
  • Waltz around
  • Exaggerate
  • Participate in other chicanery

Also, these words do not come out of your mouth or get put into an e-mail:

  • “Everyone else does it.”
  • “It’s a victimless crime.”
  • “I can hide it.”
  • “It doesn’t matter how it gets done, I just have to get it done.”
  • “Well, maybe just this one time….”
  • “No one will ever know.”
  • “I’ll just shred (or burn) that document.”
  • “What’s in it for me?”
  • “How much can we get away with?”
  • “I’d say anything goes.” 
  • “We didn’t have this conversation.”
  •  “Is this legal?”
To do what’s right, you merely make one of two choices in every situation: be honest or be dishonest. That’s it. It’s not complicated. The One Step Guide To Building Trust At Work Share on X

Being truthful, no matter what everyone else is doing, will not only keep you out of jail, but will also help you build trust with those around you, especially when you back up your words with action.

Take Care of the Little Things And The Little Things Will Take Care of Your Reputation

Doing the right thing is not rocket science. It doesn’t require four years in the ministry or close study of the Bible, Torah, or Qur’ān. 

It does require returning a phone call when you said you would; sending the book you offered to loan when you said you would; getting to the 2 pm appointment by 2 pm; following up the way you guaranteed you would; and completing the report when you promised you would. 

Keeping your word is another way of telling the truth. People will learn to trust what you say because you follow through on it every single time.

I understand that things change, crises pop up, and you can’t always do what you said you would do, or do it when and how you said you would. But as soon as you know that you can’t, contact the people involved and explain the situation.

For instance,“I told you I’d be there at 2 p.m., but it’s going to be 3:30. If that is not convenient for you, let’s reschedule a time that works for you. In the meantime I will e-mail the information you wanted at the 2 p.m. appointment now to that help minimize your inconvenience.”

Trustworthiness takes some effort on your part, but every small act of integrity pays off in a reputation worth its weight in gold. (You also get a clear conscience!)

Being Trustworthy Isn’t Always Easy (But It’s Always Worth It)

Note that says "Do What Is Right, Not What Is Easy"

Being trusted at work sometimes means making the unpopular choice. To be viewed as trustworthy, you will have to make hard choices throughout all of your life—both in whom you associate with and how you behave. 

You can’t base your choices on what others do. You have to follow your own personal code of conduct. Regardless of how difficult it is, you should always tell your truth as you know it. You will only complicate things if you obfuscate and deceive. 

 “I just tell people the truth. If I tell the truth, I never have to remember what I told anyone,” says Bill Daniels, CEO of Daniels Cablevision and cofinancier of ESPN. 

You don’t want to be like the employee whose manager described him this way: “He used to take pride in his integrity. Now he barely remembers the word.” Or the man who said this: “I don’t want to lie, but I do.”

Richard Toeppe told me this story about an occasion early in his career when a boss asked him to do something Richard thought unethical: 

Upon the request, the response that went through my mind was that I needed to give myself time to think, so I said his words back to him to make sure I understood the request. He then repeated the request so I knew that I was correct in my understanding.

 I told him I could not make happen what he wanted to happen. He asked me why. I told him it was against what I felt was legal. He told me he didn’t see it that way. We went back and forth on the issue for a while. 

Then I told him, “I am not doing the task, and if I lose my job standing by my values, I can live with that, but I could not live with making it happen and keeping my job.” We did not take action on the task after the discussion. 

Later that year we were in a meeting and someone from the executive team questioned my uprightness, and my boss said he has never worked with anyone with as much integrity as I have. The boss and I are still very close, and I consider him one of the best bosses I have every worked for.

Richard’s boss was able to relax, and he didn’t need to worry that he or the company may get ripped off under Richard’s watch. The mental cost of watching an employee, keeping tabs on his or her actions, is quite high, and if this burden is lifted from the boss, you will stand out positively. 

Regardless of how difficult it is, you should always tell your truth as you know it. The One Step Guide To Building Trust At Work Share on X

It’s not always easy, but know that when you do tell the difficult, uncomfortable truth, you will build trust for weeks, months, and years to come. 

Building Trust At Work Is A Never-Ending Process. 

Do the right thing, as you see it, all the time. It’s easier to keep true to your sense of integrity than to recover from the lack of it. And when someone notices it, you are the better employee, boss, and person for it. 

There is no advantage or victory worth a blemish on your reputation. Nothing travels faster than a negative word about you. As one politician said, “Trust arrives on foot, but leaves in a Ferrari.” 

Being a person people can trust sets you apart in hiring and promotion decisions as well as in delegating and leading. You have a better chance of positively influencing anyone around you when you know where you stand and stick to your convictions without compromising and bending to pressure.

If you are honest in all your business dealings, you will be one less deceptive player in the picture, and your trustworthiness will lead to your success.

Navigating a sticky situation at work? I am here to help. Contact me to discuss executive coaching, or if you have a group of emerging leaders, for a speaking engagement.

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