Building Emotional Trust

A fundamental part of being a good team lead, and manager, is enabling your team, and others, to trust you. But trust is earned, not given. And it can easily be eroded, so just because you gain trust today, doesn’t mean it’s always going to be there. The best managers work continuously to build trust, and build on that trust. However, just because someone trusts you to do a good job at planning a project, doesn’t mean they emotionally trust you.

Performance trust is a type of trust where people rely on your competency to do what is asked of you, this is a foundational-level of trust that is required to do your job. However, emotional trust is a higher level trust that when cultivated it brings extraordinary benefits, like strong team bonds, loyalty to the team and company, higher contentment with their job, feeling safe with their team and their leader, etc. People quickly leave bad managers, so conversely people have a hard time leaving managers they really love and trust. As a team lead, you have to grow both lanes of trust, as both are equally important. Here are some ways to earn emotional trust.

Tell the Truth

This is simple, just tell the truth, always. Like any healthy relationship, work or otherwise, it’s built upon the core foundation of being able to rely on what someone is telling you. As a manager, this is harder than it seems. As a leader, you’re given confidential information quite often. You are constantly surrounded by private information that you have to learn how to hold dear, and what you can and cannot disclose.

What happens when you’re faced with an incoming layoff, but you’re told to keep it closed, but someone is asking you about possible layoffs? This may come up, or not, but there will be similar situations where you’re stuck. You shouldn’t outright lie and say everything is fine, but you also can’t divulge confidential information either. You have to learn how to balance things, and avoid lying by omission too. Someone’s character shines through in difficult situations. It’s easy to tell the truth when things are wonderful and peaceful. It’s a true test of your ability to be honest when things aren’t so great.

Embrace Transparency

If you are able to be consistently transparent, and consistency is a key in all of these, then your team will learn to trust that you aren’t hiding anything from them. They’ll quickly learn that if something is important or needs to be shared, that you will. How you develop this is important, and unique to you. You can slowly develop this as a team, and through your one-on-ones. Take time to not only share things like projects that are being planned in the near future, but also things like what you’re doing with your life and how things are going, including things like hobbies and stuff like that.

The more often that you’re willingly transparent, the more that people will see that, and value that. And as a result, it will encourage people to be transparent with you. Afterall, it’s seldom that someone will open themselves and be vulnerable with someone who absolutely isn’t that way in return. And you want your team to open up to you. So lead by example and start first.

Allow Yourself to Show Emotion

Being able to identify your emotions is one important aspect in life, but being able to healthily show your emotions is another critical skill in life, and it extends to your work too. However, you need to develop this in a positive and healthy way first! You shouldn’t start naively and without practice otherwise it may do more harm than good. There’s a big difference in showing emotion, but it’s negative and constantly negative, versus being able to express how you’re feeling, even if it’s not great, but doing so in a guided and measured way. We’re all human, we all get frustrated, annoyed, disappointed, etc. As a leader, if you can channel these emotions and express them in the right way, and in the right words, then they’re powerful!

With more typically positive emotions, it’s easier. If you’re happy, content, proud of your team or your own accomplishment, excited, etc. don’t hold back from sharing this. Similarly to above, if you do this consistently, and transparently, and do so genuinely, then your team will feel safe and free to express themselves too.

I’ve helped turn around teams that were more guarded emotionally by being open and vulnerable about my emotions, and over time my team is quick and honest with how they feel, which is mostly good, even expressing how much they love their team, and also trusting when they feel something not great, and they trust that they won’t be judged or anything like that, and they won’t. But they understand that we’ll be supportive and do what we can for them, which is the case.

Trust in Others

If you want someone to trust you, then you have to trust them. This is always easier said than done, but it’s critical that you cultivate this skill. This will transform you in general in life, but it applies to your work life. But how do you put this into practice?

Learn to let go. Allow others to try their best, even if it fails, or doesn’t turn out the exact way you would have done it. If it does work, then what does it matter if someone coded something a little different than you would have? In the end it still works. But what is gained is they’ll realize you trusted them to do their best, and you embraced it. This practice will come into place in many areas of your job. Just look out for opportunities, and you can even speak the words to them that “hey, I trust you”, and really mean it.

This will take time, like everything else, but again if you want someone to trust you, you have to trust them.