Humanize Thru Trust

“Do you trust him/her?”

The answer to that question determines a lot – whether you follow a leader, and whether others follow you. Given the centrality of this tenant to, well, everything…the question is how exactly do you build trust? I’ve been thinking about this question a lot over the years and there is one person I think has also thought about this deeply. His name is Jamie Notter. He may be new to you. But I believe he’s someone you ought to know more of.

That is why, I asked him this question recently:

If you were going to assign us in Yes & Know community just one thing to build our trust muscle so we could collaborate better with others, what would you have us do?

His answer:

Ask questions. I know it sounds simple, and there’s definitely more to trust than just asking questions, but I think it is absolutely the best way to “build the trust muscle,” as you put it. In most organizational settings, questions are surprisingly rare. We make reports, we write emails and memos, we share data, and we do a LOT of convincing of others. Our work lives are mostly about providing answers. And having good answers is okay. Being competent is a component of building trust. But the real heart of trust is about risk. Taking a chance. Putting your interests in the hands of another, and trusting them not to take advantage of you. Asking questions can help you do that. Questions—genuine open-ended ones—are risky. They might expose that you don’t have all the answers. They enable the other person to take the conversation in a direction you hadn’t planned. That gives the other person some power. And real questions require you to actually listen to the answers, which is also a generous act—giving the other person your attention. When you build the habit of asking genuine open-ended questions, you show people that you trust them, and this helps them to trust you more too. To keep building trust, you’ll eventually have to start taking even greater risks, but building the skill of asking questions is a great way to start.


Exactly. In small actions, we can shift big things. The next time you’re interacting with others, put this into your hopper …

Jamie has an absolutely outstanding new book called Humanize; it’s one of those practical guides for realizing the true potential of social media–not for marketing, but for leadership. Do check it out, here.

And (and this goes under the header of Yeah-ness), I got an early copy that I’m going to share. (Well, I got two copies, really. I’m sharing the unused one. And, see, my mother did raise me right. Sharing = good.) But I need your help to decide who gets it. I’ll randomly pick a winner to receive it, from contributors to this post. Let’s set the deadline by end of day, Friday 10/7. How about you share ideas around trust? Ideas of what works, what doesn’t… especially what you love in others that creates trust.

Okay, your turn.  Tell us something good to know.

15 Replies

  1. Nilofer,

    Trust is about walking in a dark room making yourself vulernable to fall down and maybe gets hurt!

    Now there are people who might revoke trust from the first disappointing occasion!

    But that should be the case! One should live to trust and most importantly is to learn how and who to FORGIVE!

    Some times it is difficult to regain trust once broken though but a person shouldn’t stop trusting others for the fear of petrayal


  2. Give people a reason to trust you first! Do something to help them out (go out of your way).

    As far as earning back trust, admit when you screw up.

  3. This makes a lot of sense to me. if done right, you are both building trust and building awareness that it is OK not to know, not to have everything figured out at the outset. The key though is to, not only ask open-ended questions, but to really listen to the answers. Listening is a hugely underrated skill at work and it takes practice to focus on what another is saying without: jumping ahead to your next question, anticipating what you are going to say in response, hearing only what proves your assumptions or drawing a conclusion to early.

    Providing empathetic feedback is a good practice that both shows the speaker that you are really seeking to understand and a way to train yourself to really listen and attend.

  4. Hey Nilofer, I’ll tell you two other things that are fantastic to create trust.
    1) Story telling. The more personal, the better. People can relate and look at us telling meaningful stories with passion. The audience will feel that passion. Passion for the speaker easily translates into trust. There is no leadership without stories.
    2) Our own failures. People trust others when they feel they’re learning from them. When they feel inspired by them. People learn from failures, their own or somebody else’s. As a leader, share your failures with others to inspire them and make them trust you. You should not be ashamed of your failures. You should use your failures to win instead.

  5. Excellent post, as always, Nilofer!

    Trust is the glue that holds organizational relationships in alignment with objectives. As one of the 13 capabilities of the change-resilient organization, I felt it was critical enough to devote a chapter to it in my book Chasing Change. Other great references around trust are the Speed of Trust, by Stephen M. R. Covey, and The Trusted Leader, by Galford & Drapeau. Trust is the essential success factor in driving the social (soft) side of change, and true leaders exude it.

  6. Following on a theme: two things.

    1) Go first. You have to trust in order to be trusted. Have the courage to go first, even if it’s uncomfortable (and it wil be in the beginning).

    2) Be vulnerable. Share your feelings, be honest, deliver on promises, talk openly about doubts and times you have not been successful. Nothing engenders more trust than being open.

  7. While I agree that questions build trust, that only goes so far. Not only do you have to ask questions, but you must truly listen and absorb. There are far too many who go in and ask questions but already have the answers in mind. You need to understand the other person’s needs and desires and listen for those in the answers to the questions. Don’t just question; listen and respond appropriately and then act on those responses. This completes the circle that builds trust.

  8. What a great post Nilofer! I’d never before thought that asking questions could be the answer to building trusting relationships. Thanks very much for this!

  9. To build trust, there’s also the Ben Franklin effect (, where one asks for help to build trust. As Ben said, “He that has once done you a Kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” Asking a question is a certain amount of risk, but asking for help is placing even more trust in the other person. And, as others have noted, trust begets trust.

    Also, as others have noted, it’s not just the asking of questions – it’s listening to the response, and truly making an effort to understand their worldview. Once you can represent somebody’s position in a way that they would represent it themselves, they will trust you more as they then see you as an extension of themselves, or at least as somebody who “gets” them. I think that common understanding is the foundation of trust.

  10. Trust really comes down to standing behind someone, even when the problem is your fault. When they know you have their back and aren’t going to leave them in a negative situation, they’ll build that trust to stay with you when things DO go negative… and work with you to get things back positive.

  11. I’ve discovered that my personal trust threshold relates as much to how vulnerable I will allow myself to be as it does with the other person. Remarkably, I’ve come to this place after the ultimate trust breakdown-mostly because it didn’t kill me and I’m stronger for it.

  12. My opinion about how to build trust is simple: track record.

    Whether in the board room or on the interwebs. Your reputation always precedes you. In this day and age, people know who you are before they every meet you. You better be carrying a big stick and a solid list of accomplishments.

    Social Media and the Internet have made this even easier by putting everyone’s work on display for the world to see. Your “resume” is no longer sitting in an HR’s cabinet collecting dust, it’s being hosted on server somewhere recieving fresh eye balls every hour.

    If you have demonstrated a proven track record of success, people will trust.

    (Also important is selflessness: if you as a leader can prove you care more about the organization and the growth of your subordinaes than you do your own advancement, people will take a bullet for you).

    BTW, I didn’t particularly care to write a comment or recieve the book until I read the review on Amazon. Wow, I want this book.

  13. Asking questions is an exercise that can lead to trust but only in that it gives the impression that one person is listening (and perhaps truly understanding) the other. The key is what happens next – can you reflect back accurately what was intimated during those exchanges? Do your actions afterwards demonstrate a deeper level of care for what that person values? Trust (unlike faith) is not a switch that either is there or is not – it grows over time and with experience.

    Trust is different from faith. Trust is expectation that there is fidelity between words and deeds because there always (or mostly) has been. It is created slowly and purposefully and can be destroyed in a moment – it is fragile. Faith is a choice, a gift. It is belief without proof and it endures failures. It is born out of a desire to believe and there may be no greater responsibility than honoring faith when we receive from another.

  14. Wow. These are awesome comments! Thanks so much Nilofer for posting this and asking such a great question, and thanks to all above who posted comments. Going first, being vulnerable, asking for help, listening, telling stories, owning failure, forgiveness. This is the kind of human interaction that needs more attention in our organizational settings. We know how to do it. So let’s get cracking!

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