How to Build (or Rebuild) Trust

Trust is to an organization what oil is to a car engine. It keeps the moving parts from seizing up and stopping forward motion.

Trust in Building a Human Tower - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #4239994

Photo courtesy of ©

But trust is not something you can take for granted. It takes months—sometimes years—to build. Unfortunately, you can lose it overnight.

Some people seem to have a knack for building trust. When they speak, others take them at their word. When they are absent, people speak well of them. Even when they make a mistake, people give them the benefit of the doubt.

Others are just the opposite. People distrust what they say. They are suspicious of their motives. They interpret every comment, every e-mail, and every action as one more reason the person cannot be trusted.

Years ago, I had such a person reporting to me. Justin started out well. He had come to our company with an impressive resume. People assumed he was competent. But over time, he single-handedly destroyed his own reputation.

He didn’t keep his word. He was always late to meetings. He didn’t follow-through on his commitments. Worse, he never owned up to any of it. He always tried to “spin” the facts in his favor. From his perspective, the other party simply misunderstood what he had said or circumstances beyond his control kept him from keeping his commitments.

Unfortunately, I put up with Justin’s behavior longer than I should have. No one trusted him. First, his peers began to complain. Then his direct reports (risking his wrath) started coming to me and complaining. Even my own boss didn’t trust Justin. I was the last man standing.

I finally woke up and realized that others were beginning to doubt my ability as a manager. I was hoping to turn him around. I had even coached him on specific behaviors. But he just didn’t seem to “get it.” So, I took a deep breath and fired him. The only one surprised was Justin. Everyone else patted me on the back and, I’m sure, wondered what took me so long.

But things shouldn’t have deteriorated to this point. Justin could have been salvaged if only he had owned what was happening. He could have taken specific steps—steps I had encouraged him to take—to rebuild trust with his direct reports and colleagues.

If you are in a situation where you need to build trust—or even rebuild it—here are four specific steps you can take. These will work with your employees, your colleagues, your customers, your vendors—or even your spouse.

  1. Keep your word. This is where it starts. People have to learn that they can count on you to deliver on your promises. If you commit to following up on something, do it. No excuses. If you can’t do it, proactively let the other person know.

    For example, “Terri, last week I told you that I would get back to you with a proposal. However, I am waiting for a bid to come through from an outside vendor. It looks like that might add a week to my schedule.” People are usually very forgiving if you take the initiative to communicate. However, if they have to chase you down, you lose points. Your reputation will take a hit.

    Also, be prompt to meetings. Tardiness also erodes trust. Sometimes, circumstances beyond your control prevent this, but you can’t allow it to become a habit. And, if you are late, apologize. Show some empathy and explain briefly why you were late.

  2. Tell the truth. This is harder than it sounds. Most of us like to think of ourselves as truth-tellers. But it’s easy to round the numbers up, spin the facts, or conveniently leave out the evidence that doesn’t support our position.

    But if we are going to build trust, then we have to commit ourselves to telling the truth—even when it is difficult or embarrassing. People are more forgiving than you think. (Witness all the celebrities who have publicly blown it, apologized, and received a pass.) They don’t expect you to be perfect. However, they do expect you to acknowledge your mistakes and to come clean when you screw up.

    Sam Moore, my predecessor as the CEO of Thomas Nelson used to say, “Tell me the good, the bad, and the ugly.” Whenever I needed a decision from him, I would give him both sides of the argument. I refused to withhold relevant information. I didn’t exaggerate. I always rounded down.

    Then I would make my recommendation and tell him why. Over time, this built trust. He didn’t have to ask someone else to get the other side of the story. As a result, I usually received his approval on the spot.

  3. Be transparent. People will not trust you unless you learn to share yourself, warts and all. You have to take a risk and be vulnerable. This creates rapport and rapport builds trust.

    However—and be warned!—you can’t use this as a gimmick or a technique. If you do, people will see it as manipulation. Instead, you have to be authentic.

    The reason this builds trust is because you are demonstrating trust. You are taking the initiative to go first. In essence, you are saying, “Look, I trust you. I am taking off my mask and showing you my true self. Some of it isn’t very pretty. But I am willing to take that risk, believing you will still accept me.”

    In my experience, this kind of self-revelation almost always gives the other person the courage to take off their mask, too. And that builds trust. The relationship is deepened. It goes to a new level.

  4. Give without any strings attached. Nothing builds trust like love. What does love have to do with the workplace? As Tim Sanders points out in Love Is the Killer App, everything.

    You have to be willing to share your knowledge, your contacts, and your compassion—without expecting anything in return. The more you take the initiative to give, the more it builds trust.

    Giving lets others know that you know it’s not “all about you.” From this, people learn that they can trust you, because you have their best interests at heart. You aren’t merely looking out for yourself. You’re taking care of them, too.

    But, like being transparent, you have to be careful how you give. Otherwise, it will be perceived as manipulation. You have to make sure your motives are pure. You can’t expect something in return.

Trust can always be rebuilt. Granted, in some situations, it can take years. It takes doing the right things over a long period of time. But in most cases, it won’t take that long. Relationships can be turned around quickly if you own the problem and take the steps I’ve outlined above.

Questions: What can others do to build trust with you? How can you apply this to building trust with others? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Want to launch your own blog or upgrade to self-hosted WordPress? Watch my free, twenty-minute screencast. I show you exactly how to do it. You don’t need any technical knowledge. Click here to get started.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • TNeal

    In reading other comments, I was reminded of a situation that arose yesterday. A baseball player who doesn’t get a lot of playing time is related to the high school principal. His dad talk to the principal. She spoke with the varsity coach about the JV player’s playing time which then came back to the JV coach (and ultimately to me as assistant JV coach). When a principal questions her coaches, she erodes her own credibility.

    And as the coaches talk to one another, an heir of distrust develops. And, even as I write this, I’m aware that a problem may deepen or correct itself by my choices. How will I approach the situation and what will my words and actions do to enhance an atmosphere of collegiality and trust?

  • Jay Sandt

    I have also seen trust be built when two people that don’t know each other come together because of they have both gone through similar situations. You ever wonder why soldiers in a war zone can trust their buddy to back them up when the heat is on. Because both of them are in the same situation. Ever wonder why someone that lost a parent to a tragedy can build an instant relationship with someone else 10 years later that had the same thing happen to their parents? Sometimes it may take some digging but I would suggest trying to find something that two people can rally around.

  • Daren Sirbough

    Thanks for the post. When people back you up, that builds trust with me.

  • Pingback: Just read this: How to Build (or Rebuild) Trust « Random Thoughts from an Online Pastor

  • Pingback: Zoombies; Purpose of the Supreme Court; Divorcing for Unhappiness; Homosexuality and the Gospel; Reconsidering Blue Like Jazz and much more « ChosenRebel's Blog

  • Pingback: Laudable Linkage « Stray Thoughts

  • Saif Eye

    Hey, I am quite a new guy in marketing profession. And that’s why building trust is quite important for me, for the sake of my profession. I think this article should be shared much for the other new marketeers. Welcoming you to the unique video on life and trust

  • ofwnurse

    building trust is very essential in all aspects of our life…I’ll definitely take note of your advise and try to  live with it  for the rest of my life..

  • Pingback: web goodness | Learning & growing

  • Martyn J Wood

    Provide an arena for  people to speak openly don’t try and fix people, but come along side and be present in their situation, intentionally listen without judgement. As for myself I will continue to be vulnerable and real, and risk hurt if this is the cost for establishing  deep life long  relationships

  • DentalAccountant

    For me trusting a person takes time. We need first to build relationship in order to trust a person, am I right? I agree that telling the truth and keeping your word is one of the best  way to gain trust.

  • Pingback: Creating Trust | Pastor Jim Perdue

  • Mark Mansfield

    Michael, just what I was looking for. Thank you.


  • Pingback: Build Trust with a World That is Waiting - Social Catalyst


    A very informative and precious article… Building or re-building TRUST takes time and sincere efforts on an individual’s part. Breech of trust shatters relationships n makes difficult to re-build…but not impossible. ‘WALKING YOUR TALK’ is the first and foremost solid step one has to take … With the passage of time PERSON’S INTEGRITY makes your worth appreciable n builds trust on solid grounds…..


    my ex Brad and I broke up. I felt lost, confused and devastated and all I knew is I had to have Brad back. A piece of me was missing without him. After doing some research I found out about“: The ONLY Way to Get Him Back & Create the Life Together You KNOW is Meant to be!. and I’m pleased to tell you IT WORKED!! Today, Brad and I are back together and we are more happy than ever. Our life together is everything I ever dreamed about as we are now engaged to be married in Las Vegas next year. I can’t even imagine what my life would have been like if I didn’t get Brad back. Recover My Lover was worth every penny and I highly recommend it to anyone out there looking to get an ex back in their life.” email;

  • Rosita

    I am so glad to be on this site today in other to express myself to the world because i made a promise to Dr.olikipa that if he grants me my heart desire that i am going to make sure that the world knows about his powers.. My lover left me nine weeks ago after searching for solution all over i came across Dr.olikipa and i was convinced with what i read about Dr.olikipa. So i contacted Dr.olikipa for help, With my greatest surprise my lover came back to me within 48 hours.. Once again don’t forget Dr.olikipa contact details which are i am so glad that i met you……..

  • matt jason

    If you fight unfairly, then you destroy trust. If you fight fairly, you
    build trust. Here are a few important pointers to make sure that when
    you fight, you fight fair:

    1. Never resort to name calling or putdowns.

    2. Keep to the issue at hand. Never bring up old stuff that may be
    unresolved. The present fight is not a license to dump all your old

    3. Never use phrases that are absolutes such as, “you never” or “you always.”

    4. Never bring the other person’s family into the issue to support your case or to attack your spouse’s.

    5. Agree beforehand on a method how to take a time out if one of you feels that the fight is getting out of hand.

    6. Don’t start a fight later in the night, when you’re both tired and
    therefore more likely to have less control over your emotions.

    7. And again, do your best to use “I-statements” rather than “you-statements,” which feel like attacks.

    Trust is one thing that takes a long time to build and a very short time
    to destroy. Be careful how you treat each other. Many people wrongly
    believe that in a good marriage, you can “relax” and not have to monitor
    everything you say and do. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    Click here