The Essentials: Building and Repairing Trust


AMY GALLO: You’re listening to Women at Work from Harvard Business Review. I’m Amy Gallo. In this series, The Essentials, Amy B. and I cover key career skills by bringing together experts on those skills and audience members of ours who are looking to get better at them. The thing we like about grounding these episodes in the specifics of individual women’s experiences is how it makes management principles less theoretical and practical advice more realistic, not only for that one woman participating in the conversation, but also for listeners in all sorts of industries. How much do your colleagues trust you? Maybe that’s an impossible question for anyone to answer with certainty, but I tried it anyway on a listener named Jen, who volunteered for this episode. Here’s what she said.

JEN: Well, I hope they trust me a lot. Do I know for sure? I don’t. Not without asking, of course.

AMY GALLO: This question has been on her mind, though, long before I asked. Jen works at a manufacturer, in its continuous improvement division, managing the data and technology that the company’s supply chain runs on. Her success there rides on how well she sells ideas for change to her peers, and some of them haven’t seemed terribly receptive. Deep down, she senses that she’s fumbled communication enough times to have either not established trust or to have weakened their faith in her. So, she’s here to learn how to go back and rebuild those relationships from Ruchi Sinha. Ruchi is a professor of organizational behavior at the University of South Australia Business School. Her research explores how voice, conflict, and power influence the ways people interact with others and perform at work. The three of us are going to get into the three components of trust, how to acknowledge when you’ve broken it and what to say when you can’t tell the whole truth. We’ll also talk about how to ensure your first interaction with someone leaves them with the impression that you’re trustworthy. Ruchi, Jen, welcome to the show.

JEN: Thanks for having me.

RUCHI SINHA: Same here.

AMY GALLO: So, Jen, let’s start with you. What was your impetus for volunteering? What made you decide you wanted to be part of this?

JEN: I really thought about it in terms of some of the situations that I’m dealing with at work, and my own feelings of, I know that I’ve delivered mixed messages where I was saying something, but it was not matching what I was feeling, and also just trying to understand how I can build trust with people that I really haven’t worked with in person all that much. When I first started at this position, I was full-time, in-person, five days a week. And when the pandemic hit, we went to completely remote for three years. So, I’ve spent way more time working remotely than I have working in person. And I think when you’re working remotely, it is a little bit more difficult to not only build that trust, but then also to maintain it as well.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. Can you give us an example of a time where you were saying something that you felt wasn’t aligned with what you were actually feeling?

JEN: I can. I’ve been part of a project team. It’s a multiyear, very large project, and there have been a couple of times where I couldn’t share the whole story. Something had happened in the background with the vendor, and it wasn’t terrible. It was just something that we couldn’t share broadly with the group. I could only give them just a little piece of that information.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. And I can see how that would really be concerning in terms of violating trust or presenting mistrust. Ruchi, I’m curious, what are you hearing in Jen’s examples? Are there any follow-up questions you have for her?

RUCHI SINHA: Yeah. I’m wondering how much you tried to explain about the why you couldn’t share.

JEN: I didn’t, and I think that’s what really bothered me. I didn’t explain why I couldn’t share all of the details, because I couldn’t even bring the details up. And we had already been working at that point against some pretty big obstacles. This multiyear project has yet to hit its implementation date on any of the phases that we’ve already implemented, and that, on its own, can start to degrade whatever trust you’ve been building. You build up this date that this is the date that everything is going to change for you, system user. “Oh, no. No, it’s not. Forget that date. We’re going to move on to a new date.” And sometimes it was multiple times. So, I could feel from system users… we started with a level of trust. I think in the beginning, people were very excited. They were very interested. And as we progressed through these different stages, it was palpable. I could feel that trust degrade in the project itself. And being a part of the project, you’re a messenger of it, so you’re kind of sucked up in all of that. And if I don’t trust the project, I don’t think I can trust project team members either.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. Yeah. Ruchi, I’m hearing in there some issues around competence perhaps. And I know you have these three components of trust that you shared in the article you wrote for us, New to the Team? Here’s How to Build Trust (Remotely). Could you talk us through those three elements?

RUCHI SINHA: Absolutely. And before I do, I just want to say those three elements are based from research and have been studied by multiple trust scholars, so they’re definitely not my acronym. But a nice way to remember them is CBI. So, that’s competence, benevolence, and integrity. And as psychologists, we’ve been trying to study what builds trustworthiness. So, these are more like attributes. People across the world look in your behavior, in your actions, in your emotional display to see whether they can give you trust or whether they think you’re trustworthy. So, the CBI, C stands for competence, which is about whether you have the skills, knowledge, and ability to do whatever you say you’re going to do. So, in many ways, it’s about whether you are consistent, reliable, you’re credible, but these judgments people make about your credibility or reliability are based on the past. So, they look at the trend of how you’ve performed, but they also look at the promises you make. Right? Are you overpromising, underdelivering, or underpromising, overdelivering? So, competence is this knowledge, skill, ability, consistently delivering on what you say, and that alignment. The B in CBI stands for benevolence, which is another academic jargon to… Actually, what it means is the extent to which the other person feels that you care about their interests. So, it’s more about caring, whether you have their interest in your heart over and above what may be your own, individual self-interest. And a lot of times, this benevolence is evident in how you listen to their concerns, how you anticipate what their interest might be, or how their interest might be heard or met, and the extent to which you also sort of share your dilemmas about balancing interests, like, “I know that I have things I want to get done. I know you have things you want, and I’m struggling with figuring it out.” That just shows that you care enough that you’re struggling to figure it out.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. That makes sense.

RUCHI SINHA: And the last one is I. I stands for integrity, which is the hardest to judge, and the stickiest of the attributes. And that is typically related to how people see your honesty, how much they see you’re transparent, you adjust, you’re fair. So, think about some of those global moral values. Now, they are the hardest to show because they are often the underlying motives. And so, your competence and your benevolence are more visible. Your integrity is judged in those crisis moments, when something really goes wrong, and how you address it. Right? And the one thing I want to say about these three attributes of trustworthiness is that competence can go up and down. People can judge your competence up and down. They adjust it over time. But once you get the black mark on integrity and benevolence, they are more sticky. It takes much longer to repair it.

AMY GALLO: And does that go for the positive too? So, once people believe you have integrity or that you care about their interest, is it sticky in that way too?

RUCHI SINHA: It is absolutely sticky. So, early in a relationship, when you are sort of displaying or building the trust in the relationship, if you can strategically and genuinely try and communicate what your philosophy is, what your value is, and not just in words but in action, yes, that then becomes the lens through which they might see some… So, not meeting a deadline could be a black mark on competence. But if it comes once they have established that you have benevolence and integrity, it doesn’t hurt to trust as much.

AMY GALLO: Jen, how do you respond to those three elements? Are you thinking, “Oh, there’s one I really need to work on,” or what’s your reaction?

JEN: I didn’t think about competence in the way that you described it, where it’s not just what you’re doing in the moment, that it’s about those promises that you’re making in the future, and whether or not you’re able to deliver on them. And I do see, when I talk to someone who’s not directly involved in the project, they kind of slump a little bit, almost like there’s an exhaustion, and it’s like, “What else are you going to tell me that isn’t true?” Oh, wow.

AMY GALLO: So, Ruchi, Jen is talking about the observations of whether people are trusting, sort of connecting the pieces. Those three elements are things that you try to display, but how do you know whether you’re actually hitting the mark on those things?

RUCHI SINHA: Yeah. A lot of the time, when I teach trust even to my MBA and executive students, they’re like, “Tell me how to repair it, because there’s so many times trust gets broken, right? You’re not the first person who’s missed a project deadline and have a disappointed client, right? And are the steps different for repairing trust than building it the first time?” And my first answer is, not fundamentally and psychologically. The concrete ways in which you show competence may differ. But to build trust again, you have to build that credibility, reliability. So, in your case, as Amy asked, the first thing you can do after a trust violation is own it, is to acknowledge it. And that is the toughest thing for anyone, because in your mind, you’re thinking about, “If I acknowledge it, am I liable? If I acknowledge it, what happens to my reputation?” But there is studies after studies to show that when the other side has had a perception that their trust is violated, not acknowledging it is a second trust violation.

JEN: Wow. Okay.

AMY GALLO: Jen, did you do any of that acknowledgement of the trust violation yet?

JEN: No. No.

AMY GALLO: Okay.

JEN: And in this instance, it makes sense, total sense, that even though I’m part of a group, I’m still representing that project. It’s okay for me to own that in that moment when I’m talking with someone, because I’m part of that. So, no, I did not acknowledge it, but I totally see where it would be my place to do so when I should.

AMY GALLO: So, Ruchi, can I ask what that means practically? Because I’m picturing Jen in these moments. The project comes up. She witnesses the slumping. Does she say, “I know. The project has not met its implementation deadlines”? Does she acknowledge it right there?

RUCHI SINHA: Yeah. So, there’s been a lot of research on trust repair that even gives you some steps. Now, this is not a stage model. You can move the steps up and down based on what comes naturally. But what’s very important is, without being asked to be proactive in admitting some of the facts, in this case, Jen, it’s maybe opening the discussion by saying, “I want to come here and admit that deadlines have been missed, and I acknowledge that there were promises made that we’ve not been able to keep. Now, I’m saying that not because I want to place blame somewhere. I’m saying that because me and my team and all the other customers and system coders, we’ve all been through our plans, the resources we had to deliver. And obviously, the complexity of the project was dynamic.” So, what you’re doing is, while you are acknowledging, you’re not justifying it. You are explaining it. It’s very important not to justify it. And there are risks. There are many, many good reasons why people don’t do this, “Are they going to judge me as a bad leader? Am I blaming my team, or am I pushing the blame away to my team and just pretending that I’m not at fault?” And the research would say, the immediate, current reputation is less important. The perception of repairing that trust for a future chance that you’ll get to rebuild your reputation is slightly more important.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. Is that true even as a woman? Because I know, we know from research that women tend to get further blamed for things, and that the reputation can sometimes be fragile when we observe a woman’s competence, for example. Is there anything about being a woman that Jen should keep in mind as she’s doing this acknowledgement so that people don’t lose faith in her?

RUCHI SINHA: Absolutely. In fact, I don’t know how many of your listeners know about the likability and the competence dilemma. So, I’ll just briefly mention that, because it is truly a competence and benevolence dilemma, which is also the subsets of trust. So, from the literature, we know that when women act in agentic, assertive, ambitious, and highly competent ways, or they build their credibility up, it’s important, because that’s what gets people promoted and considered to be good leaders. But if women do that without showing their feminine, communal side, which are things like being empathetic, caring, then people, they trust your competence, but they don’t like you. And we know that people take advice from those they like much more than those they think are experts. Right? So, as a woman, if you are doing the opposite in this case, you are admitting a failure of some skill or some ability, at the same time, or after you acknowledge, you have to immediately share what your plan is to undo that. Right So, the minute you’re sharing that, “Here’s the missed deadline. I’m not justifying it. Here’s me explaining how me and my team have figured what could have caused it. But what’s more important is, we’ve come up with a set of improvements, and this is what our plan looks like. And I care about your interests, and I’m here to negotiate a way to overcome challenges.” That is the benevolence side. That is the “I care and I empathize, and I’m here to help.” Now, we know that women have to show both, competence and benevolence, to be liked.

AMY GALLO: Right.

RUCHI SINHA: So, I think the acknowledgement absolutely cannot be left as an acknowledgement. It must come back with a very strong sign of competence in terms of a future plan.

AMY GALLO: Yeah.

JEN: I have a question about timing. So, if I have never acknowledged a failure that occurred two or three years ago, or if I can acknowledge the failure right away in what seems to be an acceptable time frame, but I don’t have the plan yet, can you do either/or? Can you say, “We didn’t make the deadline that we said we were going to, but there’s no plan yet”? Is that acceptable, to say, “I’ll circle back with you when there’s a plan”?

RUCHI SINHA: I would avoid doing that, Jen, for two reasons.

JEN: Okay.

RUCHI SINHA: So, there are two parts of your question. The first one is the timing. Now, there’s actually been quite a bit of research on when you have a trust violation. When should you repair? There are a couple of things. Right after a violation, when you’re spontaneous and quick, it’s seen as more authentic and sincere. All right? However, sometimes the problem is so complex that you don’t want to acknowledge till you’ve understood the problem as to why it happened. Right?

JEN: Yes.

RUCHI SINHA: So, in your case, you’ve taken, for example, three years. Right? And that’s all right. Sometimes the pieces are so complex. So, when you come back, timing will not be such an issue, but explaining why time has passed is important, and definitely sharing a plan, because if you have taken the time to understand the problem, then part of the expectation would be, then you must have figured out how to not make it happen in the future.

JEN: Right. Right. Okay. Thank you.

AMY GALLO: It’s interesting, because my instinct would be to acknowledge and promise a plan to rectify. Right? Even saying something like, “I know we missed this deadline. The reasons behind it are very complex, and we need to dig into them, but I’m promising that we’ll do that, and we’ll come back with a plan to make it better.”

RUCHI SINHA: I would 100% agree with you, Amy. I think I was answering Jen in terms of, “If it hasn’t happened, now what do I do?” Yeah.

AMY GALLO: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.

RUCHI SINHA: But even when you make a spontaneous, quick acknowledgement, like you just did, Amy, when you say, “I’m going to come back with a plan,” I would say that that promise has to be very specific. So, when you say, “I’m going to come back-”

AMY GALLO: Next week, next month.

RUCHI SINHA: Yeah. Next week, next month, because the minute that is not specific and… Because people are going to say, “Okay. She made a specific promise. She acknowledged it,” or “And they acknowledged it, and now they met that promise.”

AMY GALLO: Yeah. Yeah. Jen, your situation is complicated, because it’s not just you. Right? You’re not an individual who’s made these mistakes. You’re a part of a team that’s all collectively responsible. It’s complex. You have multiple customers. Right?

JEN: Yeah.

AMY GALLO: But I do think when we think about your ultimate goal to earn their trust, there’s no reason you can’t be acknowledging this, not owning it solely, because I think about people sitting there looking at you, or maybe even looking at your colleagues, going, How do they not know that this is a problem? Right? And I can see that distrust just sort of start to slip in. But I can also see why you would say, “Well, this is the whole team’s responsibility,” or “I don’t know how to fix this. This is so complex.” Right? I can understand all of those hesitations as well. I’m curious, what Ruchi just talked us through in terms of how to acknowledge, does that feel like something you could do?

JEN: It does, actually, and it makes sense with making sure that people understand the why. And at this point, circling back with team members, even after three years, as long as I have the why, that’s still okay, right? That I can do that?

RUCHI SINHA: Absolutely.

JEN: Okay.

RUCHI SINHA: Absolutely.

JEN: A thumbs-up there.

RUCHI SINHA: Yeah. There was a thumbs-up. I realize I’m in a podcast giving a thumbs-up. But no, absolutely, Jen. In fact, you’re never too late to address the elephant in the room. Right?

JEN: Okay.

RUCHI SINHA: And I would say, you can even use humor. You can even say, “Oh my God, this is just three years late, but better now than never.” Right?

JEN: Right.

RUCHI SINHA: You can say, “The last three years, it’s been something I’ve been feeling. I’ve thought about this.” People will look at the way you say it and how you share what you’re going through and what you have done as signs of your authenticity and transparency.

JEN: Yeah.

AMY GALLO: I want to go back. At the beginning of our conversation, Jen, you talked about mixed messages that you were giving, or not being able to be completely transparent. And I’m curious, what would be helpful in that regard? What is it that you’re struggling with there?

JEN: I think what I’m struggling with is, if there is a piece of an announcement that I am not even able to acknowledge to other team members, I think that’s where I struggle. When I’m allowed to say that there’s something else going on, “I can’t tell you yet, but I can tell you soon,” I feel better with that, because then at least I’m getting that off my chest, like, “If you’re seeing something here that’s not making sense, this is why.” It’s those times where I can’t even acknowledge that there’s a piece of the communication that’s missing that I really struggle with.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. I think this is such an important question, because there’s been research done. Ron Friedman, who’s a psychologist, who’s written for HBR, looked at high-performing teams, and he talked to 1,000 people about what makes these teams high-performing. And one of the key pieces is transparency. And we can understand how transparency builds trust, builds connection, but there are moments, as Jen is expressing, where you can’t be transparent. Ruchi, what are your thoughts on what to do in those moments?

RUCHI SINHA: The way to answer that question, Amy, for me, is to not look at transparent like the word it is in the English dictionary. The word transparent means to make it visible such that everything on the other side is clear and it’s all visible. When we say transparent psychologically, what we mean is that you are not seen as someone who’s deceiving and concealing. Right? So, you are also not necessarily always going to give everyone classified or confidential information when it’s not due, but you are also acknowledging that the concealing and deception is not for an exploiting motive. So, sometimes being transparent is by saying that, “I might be coming across as someone who’s not addressing a topic that you want me to address, but I want you to understand that I’m not intentionally concealing or deceiving you by not talking about something. As soon as I’m in a position to be able to be transparent about this topic, I will be the first one to do it. I anticipate it might be in a couple of months, in a couple of weeks, or in a couple of hours.” And that is being transparent about not being transparent.

JEN: Okay.

RUCHI SINHA: You have to almost be transparent about your motives and intentions when you can’t be about information.

JEN: Okay.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. And even those moments where, Jen, you’re acknowledging… There’s times when you can do that, do exactly what Ruchi said, but then there’s other times where even bringing up the lack of transparency would be a violation of the trust. Right?

JEN: Yes. Yes. If it’s something that truly is confidential that other team members are not supposed to know yet, yeah, there have been instances where we weren’t even able to acknowledge it in any conversations that we were having.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. I want to share, Ruchi, just a personal experience that just actually happened today, because it was… Someone came to me and asked for advice, and they wanted advice about an interaction with someone else. And I had actually talked to the other person as well, and I was like, “Oh, this is really complicated. How will I advise this person while also maintaining the confidentiality of the other person?” And it was just a constant mental exercise to push out what I knew about the other person and just be as present as possible in that moment. And I wonder if there’s any sort of clues in there for you, Jen, of like… Part of the issue is that you’re sitting there going, I can’t tell them this. I can’t tell them this. I can’t tell them this, instead of saying-

JEN: Yeah. Probably.

AMY GALLO: … You know what? It’s not relevant to them right now. It’s not relevant to me right now. I’m putting that down and focusing on the matter at hand.

JEN: That is a very good point, because I do not do that. I focus on it because I’m still trying to make sense of why I can’t tell people. There are certain things where it’s very clear. But in those instances where I can’t really wrap my head around why people can’t know this information now, I think that’s where I struggle, and I focus on it.

RUCHI SINHA: Maybe your fact-checker for this podcast can tell me who said it, because I can’t remember who said it. There’s a very famous philosopher who said that, “You must always tell the truth, but also the truth that is useful.” Right? So, this guilt of not telling the whole truth, this feeling that, “I know something more, and I’m not telling the whole truth.” Sometimes it is far more important for the truth you’re telling to be the useful truth, and that’s not lying.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. One of the other things that comes up for me around transparency is that if Jen could be transparent with people, with her teammates, most of the time, updates on the project, “This is what’s happening,” you are now trusted as someone who’s transparent. And when you can’t be transparent, my instinct would be like, Well, she’s usually transparent. She must have a really good reason that she’s not being transparent at this moment.

JEN: Okay.

AMY GALLO: The belief that, Jen is transparent, Jen is trustworthy is established. And so, any exception to that, I start to, in my own head, make up good reasons why you must not do that.

RUCHI SINHA: Absolutely.

AMY GALLO: Jen, does that make sense to you?

JEN: Yeah.

AMY GALLO: And I’m curious, are there moments where maybe you’re not as transparent as you could be now about things you’re allowed to be transparent about, where you might lean into that?

JEN: Yes. Sometimes I’m very confused, and there is a very blurry line about what I should be sharing with people that aren’t directly involved in the managing of the project versus what I can’t share or what isn’t ready to be shared yet. I do tend to share more probably than I should. I’ve gotten my hand slapped many times over the course of my career for sharing things that I thought were relevant. And just repeatedly getting the hand slapped for things that I thought were relevant now makes me question, Is that really relevant? Can I share that information? And if it’s an impossible decision for me, or if it’s something that I really do not want to share, it may be a little bit confrontational, I will avoid the discussion altogether. I might avoid the topic altogether, because I have no more information now to make this decision. And that hand-slapping is, it’s ringing in my ear that, Oh, man. What if I get my hand slapped for this? So, there have been many times where I avoided conversations, because I just was not sure what I could share.

AMY GALLO: Ruchi, what do you think?

RUCHI SINHA: I think we kind of have to take a step back, Jen, just because it does sound like you are working in an environment where there’s a certain climate. And so, trying to not just change what you’re doing, but to actually shape and negotiate some autonomy in your own climate will allow you then to build that trust. So, when you were speaking, what I’m hearing is, there’s a history, there’s a pattern where people are constraining your ability to assert the leadership that you want to assert.

JEN: Yeah. And to be clear, the hand-slapping happened in my work experience prior to the company that I’m working with now. So, I’m bringing that experience with me.

RUCHI SINHA: Yes.

JEN: And that’s really not been a situation here where I’m at now, but all of those past experiences really informing access to this new and different level of knowledge and facts and information, that I do tend to stop short, thinking, Oh, I don’t know if I’m allowed to share that or not. So, I do find that what’s happened in the past is now informing some of what I’m doing right now.

RUCHI SINHA: Absolutely, and the research literature says the same. Our propensity to make ourselves vulnerable and trust ourselves to do the right thing, or even show our trustworthiness is affected by all of these past experiences. But you need to renegotiate the autonomy in your role as a leader to be able to then build trust as a leader, with your clients, with your team. It may actually, one, require you to voice some of these things and have them become more transparent between you and the level above you. Right?

JEN: Okay.

RUCHI SINHA: So, I think building trust with the level above you allows you to have the autonomy to build trust with peers and people who report to you. So, I think working on that upward trust-building with the boss. Yeah. And we can talk about that, but I’ll see what Amy thinks about it.

AMY GALLO: If I could underline that sentence a million times, building trust with those above you gives you the autonomy and permission to build trust with those below.

JEN: Okay.

AMY GALLO: And what I’m actually envisioning on a practical level, we haven’t actually talked at all about your manager, Jen, and I’m curious what your relationship is like, because I can imagine a conversation with your manager where you say, “I need to come clean about something. In the past, I’ve had my hand slapped for sharing too much information, but it was information that I thought was relevant. It would be so helpful for me to talk through what is okay for me to share and what isn’t in this context. I’d love your guidance on that.”

JEN: Okay. That conversation has not happened. And I will say that I have a good relationship with my boss, and that sounds like a conversation I should have with him, because I would be able to eliminate some of those gray areas where I’m not sure, and then ultimately avoiding. Right? And I don’t want to avoid people, because that goes nowhere in building trust. That much I do know.

AMY GALLO: Well, and it links back to what Ruchi was saying about benevolence, right? And some of the ways to display benevolence is to demonstrate the conflict you might feel between your needs and someone else’s needs. So, you could even say to your boss, “I feel conflicted because I want to build trust with the team, but I also want to make sure I retain your trust. And so, I’m trying to negotiate that. Can we talk about that? And how do you think about that? What advice do you have?”

JEN: Yeah.

RUCHI SINHA: The bit I’ll build on, and I completely like this idea, this plan that we are hatching together. The one bit, again, going back to the gender stereotypes and what I know about some of the ways in which to make sure your boss doesn’t lose credibility and also sees the benevolence at the same time, I like the idea of framing that meeting to discuss ways to be a better leader to manage your team. But while doing that, I also like Amy’s advice on being a good listener, and open-ended questions like, “What are your advice? What are your beliefs about… What are the boundaries that you would like us to maintain? And what are the reasons behind those boundaries?” Right? And so, one of the things that we end up doing is, I think, one, you can’t get into a conversation like that with your boss randomly on Friday at 4:00 PM, when the person is not prepared.

JEN: Right.

RUCHI SINHA: These are conversations that often don’t get had properly. So, you might want to give someone a heads-up. This is just me, unsolicited advice. Give a heads-up. Tell them a little bit about the general topic, which is about building trust with your team and understanding the boundaries of confidentiality, so forth. But go in with some things that you think are good for what you’d like to do, and let the other person then tell you whether they agree or disagree.

JEN: Okay.

RUCHI SINHA: So, let them shape your own boundaries, because that might actually guide the conversation, but also, that shows that you are competent, assertive. You know what you want that you’re seeking advice on what you know what you want.

AMY GALLO: Yeah.

JEN: Okay. That’s great advice. I like it.

AMY GALLO: Jen, I know you had a question about establishing trust with people you don’t know well. Do you want to ask that?

JEN: Yes. Yeah. Establishing trust at the very beginning of the relationship and when you’re first meeting someone. I am an introvert. I am a little bit socially awkward. Depending on the context with which I’m meeting someone, that can really skew that awkward feeling quite quickly and make it really big. How do you establish trust at that point of meeting when what you’re presenting is, “Oh my gosh, I’m so nervous. I’m very awkward, and I don’t know what to say to you to get this conversation started,” versus “You can’t trust me,” like what that other person might be seeing? How can I do that and establish that right from the start?

AMY GALLO: Ruchi, what do you think?

RUCHI SINHA: So, I am on the other extreme side of extroversion, and I study this. And that in this world that we live in, and especially the world of business, public, private sector, there’s an extrovert advantage. Extroverts are picked to become leaders. Extroverts are promoted. They’re seen as more competent. Just because they yap, yap, yap, yap, doesn’t… There’s not a perfect correlation at all between extroversion and competence, but it is what is seen. And here, I want to just step back for all the listeners. People almost always define extroversion as people who are the life of the party, and they’re gregarious and they’re fun and they’re talkative. That’s actually not the psychological definition of extroversion. Extroverts and introverts differ in whether energy is depleted or energy is gained from social interaction. Right? So, an introvert can be an extrovert. We can all do it. The problem is, while being an extrovert, they feel depleted, tired, exhausted. And so, whenever introverts are like, “How do I work in this world of extroverts where everyone seems to be this gregarious, social person?” in order for an introvert to be in that world, you have to be recovered in terms of energy. Right? You have to manage your energy prior and after the interaction. So, when you’re having an important meeting, and you know this is the very early impressions of trust, you almost have to do something prior to recover the energy to be able to share. Right? And also remember, you’ll be tired after that meeting. And so, you need a half-an-hour break to recover your energy. So, that’s one advice. The second is, a lot of introverts kind of have this barrier between, “This is my professional self and this is my personal self,” while extroverts like me are like, “Oh, yeah. My husband’s an introvert. My dog is this following breed.” I’ll tell you everything on a podcast even if you don’t ask me to. Right? And I think that actually does interfere with trust-building, because in the first early stages of those conversations, I feel like I can’t get to know who you are. I can see that there’s a persona, a professional self. Now, I respect boundaries, and everyone should craft their boundaries themselves. But I think it’s important to know that people want to judge authenticity and want a little peek into who you are as a person. For that, they don’t need to know personal things, but they need to know who you are.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. It’s funny. If you want an illustration of the extroversion-introversion, you should come to my house after my husband and I have been to a party, because I’m face down in bed, cannot speak, because I’m an introvert, and he is like, “Who’d you talk to? What’d they say? Dah, dah, dah, dah.” He’s so energized. Right? But I think that the key is, for my introversion, one of the sort of… I don’t know, of a defense mechanism, when I’m trying to meet someone new and talk to them, I sort of rely on what I do here, which is ask a lot of questions and try to identify points of connection, because I think that sort of establishes that warmth. And then I go back to some of the phrasing we’ve used to combine the competence and benevolence of… So, you ask them a question: “What are you working on? Oh, how long have you been here? Oh, that project? I’ve worked on a project just like that for four years.” Right? Establish that competence. And, “I found it really rewarding. How are you finding it?” Right? That establishes that warmth. The other thing that… And I’m thinking about some of Ruchi’s advice around the sort of mental shifts, because I think if you go in going, I’m awkward. Oh, gosh. I’m looking awkward. They’re not able to connect with me, instead of going and thinking you’re awkward, what is your superpower in connecting with people? Because you clearly can do that. Right? We’re doing that right now. What’s your version of connecting, and can you find a way to lean into that? Are there situations when it’s easier, or you feel like, “Oh, I actually did well at that”?

JEN: Yes. I do try and ask questions. That’s where my mind goes, if I’ve had the opportunity to prepare. So, my follow-up question to this is, what happens if I don’t have the time to refuel before a meeting? And this is an impromptu meeting. Someone is being walked around the building. I had no idea this person was going to be there, and I’m expected to interact with them when I just came off of back-to-back meetings. And I’ve had no time to restore my own energy, and I’m feeling especially depleted, but this person standing in front of me has no idea who I am, and I’m trying to make a good impression. That would be my follow-up to that. What happens when it catches you off guard? Right?

AMY GALLO: So, no time to prep, totally depleted, and you don’t know anything about this person.

RUCHI SINHA: So, there are some tricks, and I’ve had these questions asked to me in classes, because I teach negotiation skills, and I always tell them, “Go prepared.” And they’re like, “Sometimes someone just walks into your room and starts negotiating. I have no time to prepare what you just told me.” And I said, “This is why we can always take a pee break.” You can always walk away and be like, “I’ll just be back. I’ll just go to the restroom.” You just need two minutes. Sometimes you just need two minutes. Right? You go in and just prepare for the first question, or the first two seconds. Right?

JEN: Okay.

RUCHI SINHA: That’ll give you enough time once the conversation starts.

JEN: Yeah.

RUCHI SINHA: That just reduces your immediate anxiety. I know what I’m going to do when I get back into that room, and that’s it. After that, I’ll take it as time goes. I’ll practice a couple of things I know, which is when I hear something, I’m going to paraphrase it. When I paraphrase it, I will always try and communicate competence and benevolence. I will talk about my values, and that’s it. I just need to get the CBI right, and I just need to go and smile or maintain eye contact. Just two things I’ll do, then you’re back in the room.

JEN: Okay. That’s great advice.

AMY GALLO: Yeah. And Jen, I mean, this is the first time we’ve ever met, and I’ll tell you, my impression of you is that you’re curious and reflective and insightful. And so, I think reminding yourself of those things, and maybe leaning into them. So, you’re curious. You can ask an interesting question, even if it’s something as simple as… I’m trying to think of something that’s not silly. I’m really interested in how people get from one place to another, like, “Did you drive here?” which is a really awkward question to ask someone, but it is something I’m… Yeah. Like, “What brings you in today? What’s your connection? Oh, how long have you known Ruchi? How long have you…” Whatever it is, just following your curiosity. And I think, to me, that seems like such a genuine part of who you are, that that might help. And I do think curiosity is another way to display warmth, because it’s showing care. It’s the benevolence. It’s showing care for the other person and their needs. And then I think the real key is to maybe lead with that, because it’s natural, but then find ways to put in that competence and integrity as well.

JEN: Okay. This has been such a great conversation. I enjoyed it.

AMY GALLO: Me, too, so much. And I just, Ruchi, appreciate your insights and the way you bring in the research and what’s been shown to work. It’s been so helpful. And Jen, your vulnerability, curiosity, insightfulness has just been so refreshing, and thank you both so much.

RUCHI SINHA: And thank you, Amy.

JEN: Thank you. Yes. Thank you.

AMY GALLO: In addition to Ruchi’s article, I recommend HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Trust. It’s a book that presents some of Harvard Business Review’s best coverage of the subject, and gets into aspects we didn’t cover here, like how to negotiate with someone who lies or how to deal with cynicism that’s causing harm. As for stuff to listen to, try episode 934 of IdeaCast, “How to Solve Tough Problems Better and Faster.” In that one, author Anne Morriss explains why trust and transparency not only speed up solutions that people create, but also improve their quality. There’s also Coaching Real Leaders, season 6, episode 3, “How Do I More Effectively Build Stakeholder Alignment?” That show, which Muriel Wilkins hosts, is actually out with a new season today. Next week on this show, executive coach Melody Wilding advises us on how to set and enforce boundaries.

MELODY WILDING: “No” is not a complete sentence in the workplace. There’s a delicate balance, especially for women, of providing enough context, but not overexplaining.

AMY GALLO: Women at Work‘s editorial and production team is Amanda Kersey, Maureen Hoch, Tina Tobey Mack, Rob Eckhardt, Erica Truxler, Ian Fox, and Hannah Bates. Robin Moore composed this theme music. I’m Amy Gallo. How are you finding this latest season of The Essentials? Which tips do you plan to use yourself? Which have you shared with a friend? Amy B. and I want to know. Email us at womenatwork@hbr.org.



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