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Gallup's research demonstrated a three-fold increase in engagement among employees who trust their leaders. Employees who trust their leaders are 61 per cent more likely to stay with their company and not search for another job. | Source: Adobe Stock
Gallup's research demonstrated a three-fold increase in engagement among employees who trust their leaders. Employees who trust their leaders are 61 per cent more likely to stay with their company and not search for another job. | Source: Adobe Stock

Improve trust in your business by asking the right questions

It’s been said that trust, not money, is the currency of business and life. RYAN ESTIS details an effective strategy to improve trust within your business.

“How can I support you in your work?”

On the surface, it seems like a simple question; however, when business leaders pose it to their staff, the impact on bonding can be mighty because it immediately encourages vulnerability and establishes trust.

As a leader, it demonstrates you care about your staff’s well-being and professional achievement. Your employees can feel safe asking for guidance — no matter how difficult the journey ahead gets.

Vulnerability and trust are essential elements of leadership. It means giving others the benefit of the doubt and believing in the goodness of intentions. Trust can’t be demanded or assumed. Instead, leaders must earn trust through words and actions.

Promoting authentic, open communication and vulnerability sets the stage for a high-performing work environment. Leaders who speak honestly about challenges they face and are overcoming empower team members to share their own challenges openly.

We’re hardwired to seek connections with our fellow humans, but those connections don’t always happen on their own. That’s our responsibility as leaders.

According to a 2021 Gallup survey, only 23 per cent of employees ‘strongly agree’ that they trust their leadership. That significant lack of trust isn’t just an internal problem – it ultimately translates to worse outcomes for your customers.

The report described leadership competencies as ‘transmission circuits’, and these attributes can be oriented toward the behaviours that build trust. The research identified seven key competencies that business leaders should keep in mind.

  • The ability to establish connections that spread ideas and accomplish work
  • A drive for development that focuses on needs, expectations and aspirations
  • Comfort with leading change in strategy and alignment with vision
  • The capacity to inspire others by encouraging their efforts
  • Critical thinking that seeks information openly, invites dissent and stimulates debate
  • Communication skills that result in open and transparent dialogue
  • A need for accountability to hold everyone responsible for performance

Gallup's research demonstrated a three-fold increase in engagement among employees who trust their leaders. Employees who trust their leaders are 61 per cent more likely to stay with their company and not search for another job.

Diving deeper
"We’re hardwired to seek connections with our fellow humans, but those connections don’t always happen on their own. That’s our responsibility as leaders."

Indeed, when you invest the time to cultivate trust, the payoff can be a source of tremendous competitive advantage by encouraging creativity, inspiring innovation, and building deeper relationships.

Open the door: Creativity thrives in an environment of trust and vulnerability. To be creative is to reveal a hidden part of yourself without knowing how other people will react. Even the most creative people will struggle if trust is low and vulnerability is viewed as a weakness.

Inspire innovation: Innovation is daring to disrupt the status quo. We often think of innovators as bold and brash, but that ignores the uncertainty and hard work involved.

Innovation is about trial and error, with no guarantee of finding success. You need to trust others and yourself while being vulnerable enough to fail – sometimes over and over again.

Building meaningful relationships: To build connections that matter, you need to be approachable and empathetic.

You don’t have to make grand gestures; you can lend an ear to a colleague or show interest in what someone says. Those small acts create trust and allow others to be vulnerable with you.

That’s where deep and authentic connections begin to form.

Questions that build trust

Over the years, I’ve developed a series of four questions a business leader can ask to help you quickly build trust in staff.

This exercise works for new businesses and those that have just found themselves slipping into unhealthy patterns.

It inspires more authentic, open, and vulnerable conversations firsthand. Let’s explore each of these questions and how you can use them to cultivate meaningful two-way conversations with your staff.

What’s something you can be grateful for right now? Begin the process toward greater trust and vulnerability by accentuating the positive.

If you’re asked this question, look around and take a second to reflect: What can you be thankful for right now? How can you share that with your counterpart? As the leader, asking the question, how can you celebrate with them?

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question. Your answer can be simple, like the cup of coffee you had that morning, or complex and profound, such as overcoming a health crisis or reconnecting with a loved one.

This question opens the floor to let employees speak freely and candidly about what they’re grateful for while revealing something about who they are.

What’s something you’re struggling with? Answering this question can take time and effort. Maybe you’re fearful of rejection. Perhaps you can’t even admit to yourself that you need support.

This powerful icebreaker can be the first step toward finding real solutions. For some employees, the chance to answer this question can overcome their fear of being hurt, especially if they have longstanding trust issues.

Again, these answers can range widely, touching on personal or professional obstacles. You might need help with job performance or work-life balance. You might need help taking that next step in your career.

As a leader, when you listen deeply and affirm your employees’ answers, you’re building a trusting relationship. You might even be able to provide actionable solutions.

This same question can help you overcome sales obstacles. Make your customers challenge your challenge and support them in solving it.

What have you learned recently? Top professionals know there’s always something new to learn. This question allows every staff member to name something they can improve — for themselves and the business.

Leaders set the tone here, too. If you can admit that you’re a work in progress in staff meetings, you’re showing vulnerability and giving permission for your employees to do the same.

When everyone does this, you’ve got a group that’s been vulnerable and has seen they can trust each other.

What’s a fact about you that not too many people know? Trust and vulnerability aren’t just about work. Revealing a fun fact can change someone’s perspective of you for the better. And because you trust them, they can trust you with a fun fact of their own.

For example, your newest sales hire shares that they run a marathon every year. You know right away that they are willing to put preparation, dedication and a ton of effort into achieving goals that are important to them. You know they have physical and mental endurance. And you know they don’t rest on their laurels because there’s another marathon to run the following year.

Trust and vulnerability in your business

US entrepreneur and philanthropist Marc Benioff once said, “trust has to be the highest value in your company, and if it’s not, something bad is going to happen to you.”

With the research from Gallup detailed above in mind, I’m sure you’d agree he was right. With that said, what do trust and vulnerability look like in your business?

You won’t always be able to run my questions to build trust in a staff exercise for every situation. With that said, there are many ways for leaders to begin practising vulnerability at work. Try adding these simple steps to your routine to strengthen employee engagement.

  • Admit when you need help
  • Tell people how they can support you
  • Clarify that the support you’re offering is really what they need
  • Let go of ego
  • Have courageous conversations

Trust and vulnerability flourish on teams where people can freely communicate, connect, and try and grow — and get back up and try again if they fail.

Leaders create these structures when they show up as their whole selves, embrace vulnerability, and empower others to do the same.

How can you inspire trust and vulnerability in your business?

More reading
Are you too optimistic about the future of your business?
Back to basics: Embracing the power of digital marketing
The art and science of storytelling in sales
Diving deep into the personality traits of great business leaders
Real reasons you can't close the sale - and how to overcome them

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan Estis

Contributor


Ryan Estis helps companies to embrace change, attack opportunity and achieve breakthrough performance. Learn more: ryanestis.com

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