The 10 Commandments of Communication to Build Trust

The way we communicate with others is a primary way we build trust. Along with specific behaviors and actions, communication serves as the vehicle for building trust in relationships. What we say, how we say it, and how we respond to what others communicate can make or break trust. That’s why it’s important to develop your interpersonal communication skills. There are some basic communication do’s and don’ts…the 10 commandments if you will…that everyone should know to facilitate the growth of trust.

Check yourself against this list to see how many of the 10 Commandments of Communication you adhere to:

1. Thou shalt demonstrate genuine care for the other person – People can see right through a phony. If you don’t genuinely care for the other person in the relationship it will show in your words and actions. If it’s important for you to build trust with someone, then you should find ways to genuinely care about them. Examine the relationship to see what it is about the person, or the role they play in your organization, that you appreciate and value. Focus on those aspects of the relationship in an authentic and genuine way.

2. Thou shalt listen to understand, not to respond – Most of us have poor listening skills. Instead of listening to someone to understand their point of view, we spend our mental energy formulating a response. Practice active listening techniques such as asking open-ended questions/statements like “Tell me more” or “How did that make you feel?” Paraphrase key points and check for understanding throughout the conversation and listen with the intent to be influenced by the person speaking, not with the intent to argue or debate. Listening can be one of the easiest and quickest ways to establish trust with someone.

3. Thou shalt use open body language – Studies have shown that 70% or more of communication is nonverbal. Our body language often conveys much more meaning than our words so it’s important than your body language is in alignment with the intent of your words. If at all possible, eliminate physical barriers, like a desk, between you and the person you’re speaking with. Sit side by side or in front of each other, don’t cross your arms, roll your eyes, or grimace. Be sure to smile, nod in understanding, and verbally respond with phrases like “I hear you” or “I understand” to show the other person you’re tracking with the conversation.

4. Thou shalt look for commonalities with the other person – People intuitively trust people who are similar to themselves. When first establishing the relationship, emphasize things you have in common such as where you grew up, went to school, common hobbies/interests you have, or the activities/sports of your children.

5. Thou shalt express empathy/mirror emotions – You’ve probably heard the old saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Expressing empathy toward another person is an excellent way to show you care, particularly if you mirror their emotions. Neurological studies have shown our brains contain “mirror neurons” that have the capacity to help us feel the emotions being expressed by another individual. I’m not suggesting you mimic the emotions of others in an attempt to manipulate them into trusting you, but rather taking genuine interest in their plight and letting your natural empathetic instincts express themselves.

6. Thou shalt be transparent and show vulnerability – Establishing trust in a relationship requires one person to make the first move in extending trust. Someone has to make him/herself vulnerable to another and one way to do that is to be transparent (appropriate for the context of the situation) in sharing information. A lack of transparency or vulnerability breeds suspicion in the relationship and is usually the result of one party wanting to minimize risk and maximize control.

7. Thou shalt be positive and respectful – Right or wrong, people will judge the quality of your character by how you speak about and treat others. If you are positive and respectful in your words and actions, people will trust that you will treat them the same way. The opposite is also true. If you speak disparagingly about others or treat others as “less than” yourself, people will not trust you will act with fairness and integrity in your dealings with them.

8. Choose the right time, place, and method to communicate – Just as the secret in real estate is “location, location, location,” the secret to trust-building communication is “timing, timing, timing.” In addition to finding the right time to communicate, it’s important to choose the proper place and method. If your communication involves sensitive personal information, have a face-to-face conversation in a private location. Use email, phone, and other methods of communication that are appropriate to the specific situation.

9. Thou shalt look for opportunities to build up the other person – Your words can be used to build other people up or tear them down. Which do you think will build trust? Building them up, of course. Look for every opportunity to use your communication to help others learn, grow, and become the best version of themselves possible. Doing so will cause people to see that you have their best interests in mind, a key driver of deciding to place their trust in you.

10. Thou shalt own your words – Say what you mean, mean what you say, be forthright, honest, compassionate, caring, and responsible with your communication. If you say something that harms another, apologize sincerely and make amends. It’s really that simple.

I originally published this post on and thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.

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The 3 Circles of Trust – Where Do Your Relationships Fit?

If you’ve seen the movie Meet the Parents, you probably remember “the circle of trust.” Robert De Niro’s character, Jack, a former CIA agent and overly protective father, is obsessed with making sure his future son-in-law Greg is a trustworthy and honorable husband for Pam, his only daughter. From his point of view, a person is either in or out of his circle of trust; there’s nothing in between.

The reality is we have multiple circles of relationships, each with varying degrees of trust, depending on the people, context of the relationship, and the circumstances involved.

Consider these three circles of trust:

The outer most circle is the Community and is the group of individuals that you would consider your acquaintances. Perhaps you’ve met them a few times, may know their names, and occasionally interact with them such as the clerk you regularly see at the grocery store, your plumber, or the teachers at your child’s school. This circle is characterized by the lowest degree of trust which tends to be based on the norms of the context of your relationship. There tend to be  rules, policies, procedures, or contracts in place to prevent one party from taking advantage of the other. There isn’t anything wrong with this level of trust. It’s appropriate for the transactional nature of your relationships in this circle.

The Crowd circle contains those relationships that have a deeper level of trust characterized by personal knowledge of each party. A relationship moves from the Community circle into the Crowd by demonstration of trustworthy behavior over time to where the parties involved can reliably predict each other’s behavior. This is the circle where you would typically find relationships with your team members, co-workers, or social organization associates.

The innermost circle is the Core. This is the circle of trust reserved for the closest relationships in your life such as your spouse, family, and best friends. This level of trust is characterized by the parties knowing the hopes, dreams, fears, and insecurities of each other. These relationships have the highest levels of trust because they also have the highest levels of vulnerability. Over the course of time these relationships have experienced increased amounts of personal disclosure and the parties have developed a history of respecting and protecting the vulnerabilities of each other.

Contrary to what’s portrayed in Meet the Parents, there isn’t just one circle of trust. Our relationships are too varied and complex to fit into a one-size-fits-all approach and successful leaders have learned to extend and cultivate the right amount of trust depending on the given circle of the relationship.

What are your thoughts? How would you categorize your circles of trust? Feel free to share your comments.

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Forgiveness is the Path to Rebuilding Trust – 8 Principles to Remember

i-forgive-youSuffering a betrayal of trust can be one of the most difficult and challenging times in your life. Depending on the severity of the offense, some people choose not to pursue recovery of the relationship. For those that do, the process of restoration can take days, weeks, months, or even years. If you choose to invest the time and energy to rebuild a relationship with someone who has broken your trust, you have to begin with forgiveness.

I’ve experienced this personally in my own life and can attest to the fact that trust can be rebuilt and the relationship can be stronger and healthier than it was before. But it requires the parties involved to step out in faith, invest the time and effort, and be accountable to each other.

There are many misconceptions about forgiveness, like it’s a display of weakness, it lets the offending party off the hook, or opens the door to people taking advantage of you. Those are misconceptions for a reason: they’re wrong. As you consider forgiving someone who has betrayed your trust, here are 8 principles to remember:

1. Forgiveness is a choice – It’s not a feeling or an attitude. Forgiving someone is a mental decision, a choice, that you have complete control over. You don’t have to wait until you “feel” like forgiving someone.

2. Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting – You don’t have to forget the betrayal in order to forgive. You may never forget what happened, and those memories will creep in occasionally, but you can choose to forgive and move on.

3. Forgiveness doesn’t eliminate consequences – Some people are reticent to give forgiveness because somehow they think it lets the other person off-the-hook from what they did wrong. Not true. Consequences should still be enforced even if you grant forgiveness.

4. Forgiving doesn’t make you a weakling or a doormat – Forgiveness shows maturity and depth of character. If you allow repeated violations of your trust then you’re a doormat. But forgiving others while adhering to healthy boundaries is a sign of strength, not weakness.

5. Don’t forgive just to avoid pain – It can be easy to quickly grant forgiveness in order to avoid conflict and pain in the relationship. This usually is an attempt at conflict avoidance rather than true forgiveness. Take the appropriate amount of time to think through the situation and what will be involved in repairing the relationship before you grant forgiveness.

6. Don’t use forgiveness as a weapon – If you truly forgive someone, you won’t use their past behavior as a tool to harm them whenever you feel the need to get a little revenge.

7. Forgiveness isn’t dependent on the other person showing remorse – Whether or not the person who violated your trust apologizes or shows remorse for their behavior, the decision to forgive rests solely with you. Withholding forgiveness doesn’t hurt the other person, it only hurts you, and it’s not going to change anything that happened in the past. Forgiveness is up to you.

8. Forgiveness is freedom – Holding on to pain and bitterness drains your energy and negatively colors your outlook on life. Granting forgiveness allows you to let go of the negative emotions that hold you back and gives you the ability to move forward with freedom and optimism.

Forgiveness is the first step in rebuilding a relationship with someone who has betrayed your trust. If you skip this step you take the risk of trying to rebuild your relationship on shifting sand and eventually trust will crumble again. Start with forgiveness, you won’t regret it.

Posted in Distrust, Forgiveness, Relationships, Trust | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Moving From Peer to Boss – 5 Steps to Success

Peer to BossCongratulations! You’ve just received the news that you’re getting a promotion to supervisor! You’re excited, thrilled, eager to get going…and scared out of your mind! You don’t have a clue about where to start and you’re nervous about how your team members will react to you now being the boss. You’ve worked all these years to build great relationships and friendships as a team member and colleague and now you’re faced with the prospect of having to be tough, lay down the law, hold people accountable, enforce the rules, and all that other mean boss stuff. You’re starting to question yourself before you even get started: Do I really want to be a manager?

Well, before you get too riled up and freak yourself out, or worse, go on a power trip and start making enemies, take a deep breath and put a plan together. Remember, someone promoted you because he/she has confidence in you. You’ve also proven yourself as a high performer and that track record of success will give you credibility as you transition into a managerial role.

However, if you’re like most people in most organizations, you haven’t received any kind of specific leadership training to prepare you to move into the role of leading people. Success as an individual contributor does not guarantee success as a manager. Leading people is a whole new ballgame.

That’s why you need a plan. Far from being a complete treatise on the subject, here are a few key steps you should consider taking as you move from peer to boss:

1. Acknowledge the awkwardness – There’s no two ways about it; moving from a friend and peer to being the boss is an awkward transition for everyone involved. That’s why it’s best to acknowledge it up front. Lay the cards on the table by having open conversations with your colleagues about the transition. Communicate your desire to be open and authentic during the process, all the while recognizing that some things will definitely change about your relationship. You won’t be able to be “one of the guys/girls” in the same way you were before, but you will settle into new norms that will add depth and dimension to your relationship that didn’t exist before.

2. Focus on building trust – The number 1 priority…number 1…should be building trust with your team members. Every person on your team is eagerly watching your every move to see what kind of leader you will be now that you have access to more power and control. Your primary focus the first few weeks/months in your new role should be to show your team that you mean them no harm and you have their best interests at heart. That doesn’t mean you let the inmates run the asylum or let them run roughshod over you. Keep enforcing the rules as needed but make it a point to not go on any power trips. Focus on acting with integrity, learning the basics of your supervisory role, building relationships with people, and keeping your commitments. If you have your team’s trust, you open the doors to all kinds of possibilities. Without it, you’re dead in the water.

3. Get leadership training – Leading and managing people requires a specific set of skills and abilities that is likely quite different from those you mastered as an individual contributor. If your organization offers formal leadership training then take advantage of it. If not, find your own through books, online courses, You Tube videos, or blog articles. There is no shortage of leadership content out there to help you become a better leader. Part of your leadership training should also be to get a mentor. Find someone you respect with a track record of success as a leader and ask if he/she would be willing to offer you insight and advice. There’s nothing quite as valuable as wisdom from those who have walked the path before us.

4. Clarify expectations and intentions – If performance expectations aren’t clear with your team members, spend some time making sure goals are clear and people know what’s expected of them. As a general rule, I think it’s easier to start a little “tighter” with your team in terms of clarifying expectations and holding people accountable and then loosening up over time, versus starting too loose, have things get out of control, and then have to tighten the reins. Having said that, it’s important you make sure your good intentions are expressed as well. Let your team members know that you believe your role is to serve them and help them succeed and you’ll do whatever it takes to support them. Most importantly, make sure your actions align with your words. If you say one thing and do another you will quickly erode trust with your team.

5. Catch people doing something rightKen Blanchard has said that if he had to choose one thing to remembered by as a leadership guru, it would be the value of catching people doing something right. So many positive things happen as a result of the leader reinforcing good performance: trust is built, people’s self-esteem grows, team morale is improved, and good performance becomes contagious. It’s a virtuous cycle – people who perform well feel good about themselves and people who feel good about themselves perform well. Catching people doing something right should be a primary focus of your leadership.

Moving from peer to boss is a career milestone for most people. It’s a time of growth and opportunity and it’s important to start off on the right foot. These five steps can get you going in the right direction.

For those of you who have already made this move into the ranks of leadership, be sure to leave a comment with words of advice about other things a new manager should consider.


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The Top 10 Ways Leaders Bust Trust

“Call me irresponsible, call me unreliable
Throw in undependable too”
Frank Sinatra ~ Call Me Irresponsible (1963)

Trust Break
Irresponsible, unreliable, and undependable make for great words in a song, but if those adjectives describe your leadership style then chances are your people don’t trust you.

Now, I believe most people strive to be honorable and trustworthy in their leadership roles. There aren’t too many people who wake up in the morning and on their way into the office exclaim to themselves, “I think today is a fabulous day to break someone’s trust!” Most leaders unintentionally erode trust through what I call “trust busting” behaviors. Despite our best intentions, we sometimes get in our own way and bust trust without even realizing it.

I did a little crowd-sourcing with my team and asked them to send me a list of the most common trust-busting behaviors they’ve experienced from leaders in their career. The wisdom of the crowd was amazing! The behaviors on their lists were eerily similar. In classic David Letterman style, here’s the list of the Top 10 Ways Leaders Bust Trust:

10. Spinning the truth – Leaders erode trust when they try to shape or color the truth to their liking rather than being transparent and authentic in their communication. Spinning the truth is manipulation, just in a more socially acceptable manner, but it’s manipulation nonetheless. Save spin for the gym, not the workplace.

9. Not being available – If your schedule has you constantly booked in meetings and unavailable to the questions or concerns of your team members, you are sending the message that you don’t care about them. That may not be how you really feel, but it’s the message that’s being sent. Your schedule is a reflection of your values and priorities, so be sure to build in time for regular check-in meetings with your team members or just blocks of time where people can drop in for quick questions.

8. Not soliciting or listening to feedback – Believe it or not, your team members probably have pretty good ideas about how to improve your business if you’ll only ask. And if you do ask, make sure you do something with their feedback. Asking for feedback and then disregarding it erodes trust more than not asking for it at all.

7. Withholding information – Why do leaders withhold information? It’s because information is power and power is control. Most people think distrust is the opposite of trust. It’s not. Control is the opposite of trust. If you’re withholding information it’s likely because you’re trying to control your environment and the people around you. People without information cannot act responsibly, but people with information are compelled to act responsibly.

6. Taking credit for other people’s work – Leaders can easily fall into the habit of taking credit for work of their team members. Because it is work produced by their team, the leader rationalizes that it’s OK to take credit for it personally. Trustworthy leaders do the opposite. They call out the good performance of team members and credit those individuals for doing the work. Taking credit for the work of others is another form of plagiarizing. It sends the message to your team members that you don’t value their work and it’s more important for your ego to get credit than giving it to someone else.

5. Not keeping confidences – Integrity is the hallmark of trustworthy leaders. If someone tells you something in confidence then it should never be shared with someone else. Gossip, hallway conversations, or speaking “manager to manager” about something told to you in confidence should not happen. Above all, you should protect your integrity as a leader. At the end of the day it’s the only thing you have.

4. Playing favorites – Want to erode trust and divide your team from within? Then play favorites and watch your team burn. It’s a recipe for disaster. Now, treating people fairly doesn’t mean you have to treat everyone the same. Most leaders resort to this leadership tactic because it’s the easiest thing to do. In reality, it can be the most unfair thing you do. Aristotle said, “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.” They key to fairness is treating people equitably and ethically given their unique situation.

3. Inconsistency – A key element of being trustworthy is reliability and predictability. Trustworthy leaders behave consistently from setting to setting. They don’t have wild swings of behavior, exhibit temperamental outbursts, or say one thing and do another. Inconsistent leaders keep their team members on edge because they never know who is going to show up. It’s hard to trust someone when you can’t rely on the consistency of their character.

2. Micromanage – As I mentioned in regards to not sharing information (point #7), micromanagement is about control. Micro-managers often rationalize their behavior by saying they’re trying to ensure high quality, or they have the most knowledge and expertise, or they are protecting their team members from failure. That’s BS. Hire smart people, train them properly, and then let them do their jobs. Trust requires risk and leaders need to be the first to take a risk, extend trust to team members, and let them succeed or fail on their own.

And the #1 way leaders erode trust…

1. Not keeping their commitments – I think most leaders have every intention to follow through on their promises, but the problem lies in our eagerness to make the promise without having a clear idea on what it will take to deliver. Leaders tend to be problem-solvers and when a problem presents itself, leaders spring into action to marshal the resources, develop an action plan, and get the problem solved. It’s important to carefully chose your language when you make commitments with other people because although you may not use the word “promise,” others may interpret your agreement to take the next action step as a promise to accomplish the goal. Be clear in your communications and set the proper expectations for what you are and aren’t committing to do.

P.S. If you’re in the mood for a little crooning, here’s a link to Michael Buble’s great cover of Call Me Irresponsible.

P.P.S. I published the post last Thursday on and thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.

Posted in Leadership, Relationships, Trust, Trust Busters | Tagged , , | 6 Comments