Diversity requires trust. This is how you build it.


I used to take pride in ‘winning’ a confrontation or power struggle. That was really stupid.

It eroded many important relationships, and probably took years off my life. I’ve since learned that truly winning almost always means winning togetherThis takes trust.

Who cares (about trust)?

Some time ago, a former director took a group of my peers offsite. We went through some conversations and exercises around our need to trust and rely on each other. It was valuable and revealing.

Diversity makes trust rarer than most of us will admit.

The conversation was inspired by a Harvard Business Review article about high-performing organizations, which are characterized by diversity and a high level of trust. Our team was diverse — but struggled to reconcile perspectives and pull in the same direction.

Diversity makes trust rarer than most of us will admit — it’s hard to trust others when they are different. But if we are going to be a part of a high performing teams and businesses, we need get past this and engage a full spectrum of perspectives and strengths.

Trust is important in all relationships, business included. Clients must be vulnerable about the challenges they face. Customers need to trust the products they buy will do the job they hire it for. You get the idea. But what is it anyway?

Trust is like a…

…shareholder agreement. It is bound to the belief that someone will not take advantage of us when our back is turned. Its contract is fragile and intensely personal. Trust is built by our actions and accumulates over time; but can be destroyed in an instant. While it is emotional, it is first a decision. Either party takes the leap or they don’t; it’s a binary for both halves of the equation. To be the first — to initiate — can be especially difficult when others don’t trust us. But we must build.

Eight habits that build trust

First extend trust to others, and do what we can to inspire trust in others. I've observed eight habits that work together to make this happen:

  1. Maintain positive enthusiasm. If your world is bright, it will draw others in. They will be more likely to open up to you.

  2. Be honest and transparent. If you hide your motives, it’s harder for people to believe the best of them.

  3. Communicate often. People tend to trust what is familiar. Being visible and sharing your thoughts often helps you appear reliable.

  4. Be confident. Few things inspire more readily. And, if it appears you don’t trust yourself, others will join in.

  5. Communicate your successes. Others are eager to know if you value the same things they do. If you’ve succeeded in something that matters to you, they will be more likely to rely on you.

  6. Do not demand trust. If people cannot feel safe with you, they will have a hard time extending trust. Demanding it, reduces it.

  7. Build others up. Give them complements, show them you care. Knowing you have their well-being in mind will alleviate a lot of anxiety.

  8. Keep your agreements. If you create a history of broken agreements, it will be very difficult for others to extend trust.

Without trust, it is impossible to have high performing businesses, and impossible to do great work.

What do you do to build trust?