How to Win Your Team's Trust With Better Communication

Jan 18, 2017
10 Min Read
How to Get Your Team to Trust You

How to Get Your Team to Trust You


If you want to get others to trust you, science reveals that you need to show warmth, appear competent – and gossip. Science also provides the warning signs of when you shouldn’t trust someone on your team.

When you buy your popcorn at the movies, you probably don’t have more than a fleeting thought about the concession clerk, which is why such a relationship is referred to as transactional. You hand over the cash, and the clerk hands over the popcorn. It’s a transaction, and you don’t have any real investment in that relationship.

But at work, you probably chit-chat with colleagues before beginning a work-related discussion. (“How was your weekend?” “Did you see the game?”)

“When you do that, you transform the relationship. You’re not quite ready to give the person your kidney, but you’re more receptive to the person and they in turn feel warmer toward you. You’re building a relationship through that non-task conversation. It’s more than transactional,” explains Maurice Schweitzer.

Schweitzer, author of “Friend & Foe” with Adam Galinsky, says that kind of conversation in the workplace may be more critical than many believe, because it helps establish trust. Without that trust, collaboration, productivity and success falter.

At the same time, knowing who to trust can be equally important. In their new book, the authors use science to explain how to best establish trust, such as:

  1. Building rapport. By asking about a person’s family or hobby, you let the person feel good about talking to you, and you show them that you’re taking the time to listen. “Some people find it hard to get outside themselves because they believe they are the most interesting thing,” Schweitzer says. “But when you ask someone to tell you about their goals and interests – and ask follow-up questions – it shows you’re paying attention.”
  2. Smiling more. Maybe you don’t feel like smiling when discussing losses in the 3rd quarter, but begin by talking about something that does make you genuinely smile, such as a favorite hobby or your child. Research shows that people who inspire the most trust are those who exhibit two distinct traits: warmth and competence. “We trust warm people because we know they care about us,” the authors write. “In contrast, cold people pose a potential threat to us. We trust competent people, because they are credible, effective and efficient.”
  3. Apologizing. It doesn’t really matter what the apology is for (“I’m sorry it’s raining,” “I’m sorry your flight was delayed”) because studies show that the words themselves project warmth. This increased warmth leads people to cooperate.
  4. Meeting in person. This shows you value the relationship, and helps build trust. Whether you get on a plane or walk down the hall, it makes a difference. “When I show up in person, it shows I care,” Schweitzer says. “I’m engaged in an effort that signals my commitment, more so than an email, phone call or text.”
  5. Talking the talk. The correct use of terms and jargon identifies you as an expert – whether you’re a lawyer, real estate agent or IT wizard – and that breeds confidence.
  6. Appearing competent. You want to see a surgeon or nurse in scrubs in the operating room, don’t you? Such an appearance gives you confidence, but those scrubs being worn by an auto mechanic might be a “cue” that doesn’t match the situation, and will be unlikely to build credibility. Is your appearance giving the right “cue” or do you stick out like a sore thumb?
  7. Showing vulnerability. Psychologists often need to build trust quickly with patients, and may do so by dropping a pen, spilling coffee or telling a bad joke. Research shows that people like best those high-performing people who make a mistake – after they have established their credibility. At the same time, you have to be careful that you don’t make yourself vulnerable in a way that undermines your credibility. Saying “I’ve never been good with my hands,” doesn’t work for a surgeon who then spills his coffee. Sharing vulnerability with your team, such as singing really badly in a karaoke bar, can help you bond and develop trust.
  8. Gossiping. While gossip can be competitive and hurtful, studies show it also is essential for building trust. “Gossip gets a bad rap and can be hurtful, but it has a place. It can play a constructive role because it communicates what the norms are and communicates what is not OK,” he says. “It can also help bond us because it builds a bridge through sharing. You just need to recognize that it’s not all bad.”

As for how to decide who to trust, keep in mind that research shows that 75% of us admit to lying to our friends, and 60% lie to strangers within the first 10 minutes of meeting them.

While that may put us on alert, one of the biggest problems is that we’re often overconfident in our ability to detect lies, the authors stress. For example, we may believe that someone is lying if he refuses to make eye contact. But if the person never makes eye contact, then that’s just his way and it doesn’t make him a liar, they point out.

The key is that you want to set a baseline, sort of like a polygraph. You want to spot things out of the norm. If the person begins to act out of his norm, then you need to see that as a red flag.

Research shows best way to detect lies is to:

  • Use positive assumptions. “This company doesn’t have any problems paying on time, does it?” This forces the person to address a key issue by coming clean or affirming false information.
  • Ask open-ended questions with negative assumptions. “What payment problems does this client have?” The person will have to reveal information or actively deceive you.
  • Make them think harder. When someone lies, he or she has to keep track of the lie and the truth. When you’re forced to think harder, it makes communication more difficult because the cognitive load is increased. So, there may be more conversation fillers, such as “um” or “ah,” and the person may nod mechanically or make mistakes such as shaking the head “yes” while saying “no.”
  • Look for a quick exit. Those who are being untruthful or deceitful will often try to leave as soon as possible by checking a watch often, expressing eagerness to leave – or just getting up and walking out.
  • Pay attention to overcompensation. Liars often go overboard to express their honesty. They may invoke their religious upbringing or try to appear too relaxed. Or, instead of denying something, they may repeat words, such as, “I never, never, absolutely never….”

When you’re trying to determine who to trust, have a “trust but verify,” attitude, the authors suggest. Rely on what you’re hearing or seeing, but do other research, such as checking someone’s social media profile or reaching out to a mutual acquaintance, to confirm the facts.


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