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4 surprising ways of earning—and keeping—others’ trust

If we are indeed in the middle of a ‘trust recession,’ these strategies can help you find success.

4 surprising ways of earning—and keeping—others’ trust
[Photo: FPG/Getty Images]

If it feels like it’s hard to trust others these days—from political leaders to corporate titans—you’re not alone. According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, 60% of people distrust something until they see evidence that it is trustworthy. The Atlantic even recently declared that we are in the midst of a “trust recession.”   

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Earning and keeping the trust of the most important people in our lives is something we can no longer take for granted. As Ron discovered in his 15-year longitudinal study of more than 3,200 leaders for his book, To Be Honest: Lead with the Power of Truth, Justice and Purpose, the bar for being seen as trustworthy has never been higher. Simply not lying or being reasonably reliable are barely table stakes anymore for earning an honest reputation. So, in a cynical and skeptical society, how can we best ensure that our professional colleagues recognize our genuine trustworthiness?

We’ve found four surprising practices that, in addition to having a number of residual benefits, actually serve to bolster trust.

Build connections with rivals

It’s easy to garner the trust of those who think like we do and who are ensconced in our echo chambers. But it’s worth paying particular attention to how we interact with “outsiders,” such as those in different departments. The vast majority of an organization’s most important work happens in relationships across departmental boundaries, since that’s where many key stakeholders see us in action. 

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Unfortunately, those boundaries create silos, and it’s easy to become rivals, often due to competing metrics and priorities, or accumulated distrust. But the greatest value created in organizations also happens at its “seams,” where key functions meet. For example, sales and marketing should both create a great customer experience. Those who build alliances across those boundaries earn greater trust, not just from their own teams, but from teams that once scorned them. The courage to serve a greater good with others instead of remaining antagonistic toward them shows a willingness to put your ego aside and trust those you might once have struggled to trust. This, in turn, invites greater trust from them.

Demonstrate your willingness to change your mind

By proactively inviting dissent, you embolden others’ voices through rituals that invite people to offer out-of-the-box ideas and candid feedback, or to express personal vulnerability. For example, you could open meetings by having people write down ideas, feedback, or concerns on index cards and then randomly choose one or two to discuss. Doing this anonymously to start makes it safe for people to participate freely. After sharing her thinking one day, one leader Ron worked with regularly asked her team, “Where am I out to lunch?” By soliciting pushback, the quality of her ideas improved significantly.

It’s equally important to use your voice to offer feedback and dissent in the service of helping others improve their ideas and work. If you struggle to be candid with important people in your life, worrying about how they’ll react, it likely means you haven’t earned their trust. Don’t let your discomfort keep you from offering input that could fuel their growth. People naturally trust others who care enough to graciously bring them hard information that others won’t. (And, should you discover that your views were incomplete, and additional data changed your perspective, demonstrate humility and acknowledge your faulty assumption.)

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Choose longer-term thinking over short-term gains  

One of the findings of the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer report was the need to focus on long-term thinking to create lasting solutions that restore trust. They suggest that short-term thinking produces greater divisiveness as the outcomes often produce winners and losers. And when you’re willing to sacrifice short-term gain—for instance, advising a prospect not to purchase a product or service from you that they don’t need—you build long-term trust, because they recognize that you have their best interest at heart. In Dorie’s book, The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World, she discusses the concept of “strategic patience.” It’s not always pleasant waiting for something to develop, or to work out the way we want, but by making a conscious choice to delay gratification, we can often attain outcomes that wouldn’t be possible if we only sought a “quick hit.”

Showcase other’s contributions

While it’s easy to accept that those who are overly self-promotional or self-involved will struggle to earn other’s trust, it might not be as obvious how important it is to intentionally help others to shine. Seek out ways to allow others to showcase their talent. For example, invite people who don’t have high visibility to present their critical projects to wider audiences in your organization. Or encourage those who host meetings you attend to hear a pitch from someone you know has a great idea, but is struggling to get it heard. Maybe you can connect someone you know with career aspirations to people within your organizational network who might be able to help them advance their dream. Become known as someone who dignifies the contributions of others by making sure they’re seen and celebrated across the organization.

At a basic level, nothing is more important to professional relationships than being viewed as trustworthy. We can no longer presume we have others’ trust just because we haven’t done anything to breach it. With so much uncertainty in the world, we have to ensure others specifically recognize our trustworthiness. Your professional contacts will undoubtedly share stories about their experience of you. By following these strategies, you can make sure they’re stories you’re proud to have told.

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Ron Carucci is the co-founder and managing partner at Navalent, working with CEOs and executives pursuing transformational change. He is the bestselling author of eight books, including To Be Honest and Rising to Power. You can download his free “How Honest is My Team?” assessment.

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategy consultant who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and has been named one of the Top 50 business thinkers in the world by Thinkers50. Her newest book is The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World and you can receive her free Long Game strategic thinking self-assessment.


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