5 Things That Cause People to Lose Trust

What causes people to lose trust?

In 2016, I did an episode titled The 5 Things You Are Doing (Unconsciously) that Hurt Your Credibility. It was good information for that time period and for the focus of my business. At that time, I was largely focused on supporting women business owners.

Now we are post-pandemic, and my focus is largely on women leaders within organizations. For those reasons that original episode needs an update.

A large part of my work involves preparing women leaders for their next promotion or helping them to adjust to the one they recently got. I spend a good amount of my time having conversations around communication, psychological safety, and conflict resolution.

There are many variables that impact your relationships with others. Like deposits and withdrawals from a bank account, your behavior either builds good will or diminishes it.

For some behaviors, you know if they will have positive or negative consequences. This is largely based on the natural consequences that come from past behavior, what you observe, and the quantity and the quality of the feedback you get from those around you.

And largely due to a lack of quality feedback, you may be unaware if something you are doing is causing you to lose trust. When you lose trust it can hurt your relationships, your reputation, and opportunities to grow in your career.

Click the play button to listen to the podcast episode.

Giving quality feedback is an act of caring and courage.

Most people, without training and mindset work, are uncomfortable giving others feedback. Without training and mindset work, giving feedback is perceived as a hard conversation. This is largely because of uncertainty of how the receiver is going to respond to the feedback.

The fear is that the receiver will at minimum take offense and withdraw. They could also become defensive and lash out.

I think we can all admit that there have been times when we avoided giving feedback for this reason. We’ve avoided giving feedback to protect ourselves, even though it would give the other person an opportunity to change their behavior and increase their chances of positive outcomes.

On the other side of that equation, when we don’t get quality feedback it leaves us with a gap in knowledge. Others are aware of a gap in our development, but we remain unaware, and thus unable to even consider making changes.

Trust answers the basic question, can I rely on you? How much trust someone has in you is in relationship to the level to which they believe you can be relied upon.

In this episode I’m sharing five things that will cause people to lose trust in you.

One: Delayed response time on messages

We’re all busy. And it’s understandable if you cannot respond immediately to an email, Slack, or voice message.  

But you want to be clear about what an understandable time delay would be. What makes you look like someone who has reasonable bandwidth vs someone beyond full capacity? In other words, someone who is not available for new opportunities.

Now, I’m not advocating working round the clock to look like you have capacity. That will backfire on you and your wellbeing. If you are stretched thin, and need some responsibilities to come off your plate, that’s something that needs to come first.

For this, I’m referring to managing your time and priorities. And if you have unfulfilled career aspirations, you don’t want to take yourself out of the running for opportunities in the form of juicy projects or a promotion.

You don’t want to get passed over because the perception is you can’t handle it. The reality may be that right now isn’t a good time for these opportunities because you are, in fact, at capacity. But I think you would want the opportunity to decide for yourself, rather than having the decision made for you.

Regarding how quickly to respond to messages you want to consider a few factors.

  • Is the message related to your business priorities?
  • Is the message coming from a stakeholder, another person you are responsible for staying in close communication with, or someone with whom you are trying to build or maintain a high level of trust?
  • Is the message coming from someone who needs your reply to move forward on a project?

If that’s the case, make responding to these messages a priority. Even better, for those you work with closely: ask them to include in their message by when they will require a response. Knowing when a response is required is incredibly helpful.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are messages that you are not beholden to respond to at all. Pitch emails or messages from people you don’t know and are not responsible for may not justify taking the time to respond.

I say this kindly, and I have a lot of experience with this myself. For example, as a business owner, I receive numerous emails every day from salespeople who want to sell me something. These types of emails I give a best effort and have templated responses to make it quicker and easier to say no thank you.

However, if I am already working too much and I need to scale back, I’m not going to work longer to reply to those types of emails.

Here’s a quick solution:

If you cannot consume the email fully or do what’s requested right away, send a quick note or voice message back letting them know you got their message and will be give it your full attention once [insert appropriate timeframe]. This resets the expectation clock and reaffirms that you are responsible and professional. Now the sender is no longer left wondering…and making stuff up.

Two: Not paying attention to the details

We live in a world of bright shiny objects. Many things are drawing our attention.

But if you are not focused on what you are doing or the work you are responsible for, you will miss important details and make mistakes.

In a former leadership position, I had someone on my team that wanted to be developed to be in management someday. Usually this is a great thing. Having someone who wants to prove they are ready for more responsibility makes your own work more engaging and can also lift some of the load of your responsibilities.

However, this person felt their current tasks were beneath them and so did their tasks too quickly, without care, and mistakes were being made. They were so eager to move on, they were proving themselves to be unreliable.

My advice: be where you are right now. If you’re working your way up the ladder do your absolute best to prove that, even when a task is tedious, you can be relied upon to produce good work.

If you cannot be where you are right now, literally or figuratively, make your apologies and go.

But if you’re in, be all in.

And yes, there will be plenty to demand your attention after this conversation or this meeting or this project but give what you are doing now 100% of your attention.

Three: Sharing past mistakes without highlighting the lessons learned

We are in a new era of business where we should be sharing ourselves more with our co-workers and leaders, to build stronger teams and solidify relationships.

Sharing our failures can create stronger bonds than sharing our successes. The compassion and empathy we feel when someone talks about their struggles adds emotion to the equation forming closer ties.

The caveat: if you don’t finish the story with what you learned or what you’ve put in place to make sure you don’t make the same mistake twice you leave people with the impression that you don’t consider the mistake to be a big deal. There’s no sense that you’ve taken any responsibility for what happened or that you know how to prevent it in the future.

You may have in fact put a system in place to correct the problem but if you don’t mention it, the other party is left to assume the problem could happen again.

Here’s how to do it:

Always finish your story by highlighting what you’ve learned from your mistake, what systems and safety nets you have put in place to make sure it will never happen again.

For me, that builds trust.

When I hear the solution that came out of the mistake, I know this person has made mistakes but has become stronger and wiser from them. They’ll make mistakes in the future, we all will, but this person will take responsibility and take action to rectify the situation.

I can’t stress enough how easy and how important this is to do.

Four: Sharing stories of other people’s mistakes for entertainment

I think it’s safe to say we’ve all done this at one time or another. It feels great in the moment; it lightens the mood. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s gossip.

If you’re lucky the other person will never find out what you’ve done but they often do…days, weeks, months or even years later.

Oftentimes we do this when a lot of tension has built, and we need to let off some steam. A comical story seems the way to go.

Why this hurts us:

when we gossip, we give unconscious permission to those listening to gossip about us.

We teach people how to treat us. Remember the golden rule? Treat others as you want to be treated. This rule exists because eventually you are treated the way you treat others.

You don’t want to become known as the person who will use anyone’s mistakes for the amusement of others.

One last note: this also pertains to listening to gossip. By listening to gossip you will become guilty by association. It won’t matter that you were not the one gossiping.

Here’s my suggestion:

Do not share stories that put other people in a bad light for amusement. When gossip starts, find an excuse to leave the conversation or change the subject.

Oddly enough, intolerance for gossip solidifies your reputation for being kind, professional and a person of integrity. In the short-term it may annoy to those who enjoy listening to gossip, but they’ll come to respect your stance and trust that you won’t gossip about them.

If you want to get promoted, guard you reputation as a person who understands psychological safety and can keep confidentiality, no matter how funny or juicy the information is.

When the urge to share a juicy tidbit comes up let it pass and then pat yourself on the back. You are building the confidentiality muscle. This is priceless!

Instead of sharing gossip, ask the person or people you are with how you can support them. Make the conversation about the people in the room and leave the people out of the room, out of the room. Your offer of support will also increase your likeability factor.

Five: You Let the Fact That You Know Better Leak Out

Let’s get it out in the open. You do have expertise, you can see where other people are making mistakes, and you want to help them.

Helping them to see these mistakes and make the appropriate corrections will likely make a significant improvement in their health, wealth, and happiness.

However, somewhere between identifying the problem and the other person executing that perfect resolution something happens in the communication. Something in the way the information is conveyed and the way it is received.

Often this happens with the person who seems to be your rival or adversary at work. You know the person. The one who always seem to have a perspective or opinion that is so different from yours it feels personal. Really, it can happen with anyone but if you’re looking for an example, look to that person.

And rather than listening to you as the expert, you are listened to as one or more of the following: the interloper, the critic, the know-it-all, the judge, the complainer, the do-right, the fun police, the Kool-Aid drinker, the dictator, the micromanager or “that annoying person.”

What you don’t realize (and this has been me as well)

What you are emitting is your attitude. The attitude of “I know better than you” comes out in your facial expression, your tone of voice, and the words you choose.

No one likes to be considered less than. No one appreciates being talked down to. They will listen for only so long. And then all your good intentions go out the window and you’re left with a bad reputation.

Here’s what you do: before you speak, check and recalibrate your attitude. Remind yourself why you are trying to help the other person. Come from a place of compassion (we’ve all been there), be curious and listen first before you offer up suggestions. When you do, offer your insights as merely one solution. Offer your solution as a gift without strings attached, without judgment, and leave it up to them.

This approach gives you the reputation as a mentor, resource, collaborator, team player and good leader. And that’s a reputation that builds trust among your leaders.

Thank you!

Thank you so much for listening to the Women Taking the Lead podcast. If you are not yet subscribed to the podcast hit the follow or subscribe button. This way you never miss out on the upcoming episodes. And if you know anyone else who can benefit from this episode, please share it with them.

If you are looking for leadership development opportunities for yourself, your team or your organization, reach out to me. We can customize a program that meets your specific needs. You can reach me at jodi at womentakingthelead.com.

As always, I hope this was of value to you and here’s to your success!


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