Building trust through communication

Listening to the radio last week I heard a Japanese woman being interviewed about the latest health scare in Tokyo. Referring to the government she said ‘I just don’t trust what they tell us any more’.

Trust is hard to win but easily lost.  Once that trust is lost your job as leader becomes at best hard, at worst impossible.  Business leaders will never have to lead their people through a crisis of the magnitude of that facing Japan but how will you get your employees behind you to work together to a common goal if they don’t trust you?

In times of crisis people look to trusted leaders for direction. An essential element of building and maintaining trust amongst your people is the way that you communicate.  To inspire trust communication should:

  • Be open and honest – people want to hear the truth not corporate spin that avoids or conceals the true situation. If you don’t have all the answers, say so.
  • Reinforce the common challenge – emphasise the shared purpose and risks.  Stress the ‘we’ rather than the ‘you’ – we all face this together.     
  • Respond to people’s concerns –listening to your people to understand their concerns will enable you to address them in your communication.  Once these have been acknowledged people are better able to focus on your key messages about what you need them to do.
  • Be personal and natural – allow people to ‘see’ you in the message – this is a message from their leader – not the legal department.  Add clarity by avoiding corporate speak and jargon but don’t dumb down so much as to seem patronising.
  • Reflect your behaviours – if you say one thing yet do another you become untrustworthy – there should be a consistency between your messages and your actions
  • Build confidence in your competence – reinforce why people should trust you – your track record, your approach, particular skills appropriate to the situation.

As in any relationship, trust between leader and employees needs to be nurtured and once established it needs to be carefully maintained. Each time it is broken it becomes more difficult to repair.  Good communication can help cement the trust that provides a solid foundation for engaging employees in good times as well as bad.

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