Four Ways to Kill Trust in Business

If we don’t build trusting relationships, our success in life and work is limited. Yet we do things, often unintentionally, that kill trust.

Here are the top trust-killing behaviors I’ve seen in the workplace over the last year.

1. Lie.

“Trust starts with truth and ends with truth.” ― Santosh Kalwar, Quote Me Everyday

“I’m not upset that you lied to me; I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

Lying isn’t reserved for politicians during election year, overly eager advertisers during a new product launch or used car salespeople pushing to meet year-end quotas. A more common scenario where we are tempted to bend the truth is fudging on taxes or business expense reporting. Or not being straight about why we were late for a meeting or why we missed a deadline. Or not giving direct reports honest performance feedback.

We have all been untruthful or deceptive, whether it’s because we fear unwanted reactions, conflict, blocked goals or looking bad.

2. Don’t trust others.

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” ― Ernest Hemingway

A leader received feedback in a 360 degree assessment that his team didn’t trust him. Specifically, his team felt he did not have confidence in their abilities. He realized that he had to learn to let go and delegate more authority, along with responsibility, to them. As he began to demonstrate his trust in others to do their jobs, they began to trust him more.

When we assume the best in others’ intentions and abilities, it’s a big trust-builder and often helps bring out people’s best.

3. Don’t become friends with business colleagues.

One leader had worked with his team for years, but he shared very little with them that wasn’t related to work deliverables. For example, he didn’t mention a very significant family event until six months after the fact. His teammates were put off by his aloof and “strictly business” approach. They did not feel connected to him, and they did not trust him.

Through a 360 degree assessment and working with an executive coach, he realized this was getting in the way of his and his team’s success. He began to open up and connect on a more personal level, while still remaining professional. As he began connecting with them as people and not just as resources, their overall communication and effectiveness improved, and so did the team’s engagement.

4. Never show vulnerability or weakness.

A leadership team completed a team effectiveness survey, and the results showed a lack of trust. The team leader, who was very competent and considered himself very honest and trustworthy, was shocked. But when I asked him when the last time he apologized for a mistake, he could not remember. His unwillingness to admit his mistakes or shortcomings set an example that others followed. People were afraid to appear vulnerable. As a result, trust was limited.

Author Patrick Lencioni has shared four statements that should be said often in a healthy culture of trusting vulnerability:

  1. I don’t know.
  2. I messed up.
  3. I’m sorry.
  4. I need your help.

When is that last time you said or heard those statements at your workplace?

If you’re the leader, you set the tone for whether straight-talk, connection and vulnerability thrive, and whether, therefore, trust is strong.

Image credit

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. He loves helping leaders build trusting and effective relationships, along with meaningful results. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.