Workplace Culture

Building Trust at Work

In search of some inspiration for this article (and because of a writing deadline), I went for a walk to our neighborhood coffee shop. The barista engaged me in conversation by asking about my day and work – I told him I write about workplace culture. Then I asked him what he thought made a great workplace culture. Without missing a beat, he replied: “Trust. Both with your coworkers and your managers. Also, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Curious about his response, I asked him where trust comes from. He paused and was deep in thought when his coworker said, “I’ll tell you what. Trust is the one thing that cannot be demanded – it must be earned.”

My barista then replied, “I’ll have to think about where trust comes from; I’ll be probably be thinking about that one for the rest of that day.”

Trust Involves Kindness, Gentleness, and Self-Control

I think a lot about trust, and recently wrote about incorporating it into your workplace culture here. But the barista’s second statement – “Also, kindness, gentleness, and self-control” – really piqued my interest. It was different from what I often hear. When have you heard a list like that when discussing workplace culture and trust?

As I thought about our conversation on my walk back to the office, it occurred to me that this list creates the conditions for trust to be present or “earned,” as the second barista put it. Consider how you feel about people who are kind, gentle, and exhibit self-control. Do you trust them? I know I do.

Consider how you feel about people who are kind, gentle, and exhibit self-control. Do you trust them?

Kindness means that you care about the well-being of others. Gentleness means you try not to cause pain. Self-control means you process your emotions so that you can act thoughtfully rather than react without consideration for the impact of your actions.

As part of the preliminary work for our book, The Culture Question, my co-authors and I surveyed approximately 2,000 people on the topic of workplace culture. One of the striking connections we found was that when people said that their leader cared about them as a person, they were also very likely to say that they trusted their supervisor. Demonstrating care and developing trust go hand in hand.

Kindness, gentleness, and self-control are aspects of our character, as well as intentional choices that build trust.

Another way to think about this is through the lens of respectful or civil behaviour. In her excellent TED Talk, “Why Being Respectful to Your Coworkers is Good for Business,” Christine Porath presents her research on the profound negative and positive effects of incivility and civility on people’s performance. She explains that civility is the choice to intentionally lift someone up. When people choose civility – when they demonstrate care – they create trust. When trust is created, people are more creative and collaborate more effectively. This means that more good work gets done.

Here’s my challenge to you, as well as to myself – let’s be intentional about creating the conditions for trust in our workplaces and homes. May we act with kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Then, let’s watch for the ways in which this transforms our environments for the better.

For more free resources, visit our resources page.


Eric Stutzman

Chief Executive Officer

Eric is co-author of ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. This book is available on our website.

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