Line managers: 5 ways to build trust with individuals

Published 9th May 2018 by Investors In People

Develop your ‘honesty language’

Modifying words are problematic for managers. Using words like ‘maybe’ or ‘potentially’ to soften the blow of bad news gives false hope and may suggest the manager will take action to avoid a negative outcome, even though in the manager’s eyes it’s already come to pass.

Line managers must say what they really mean in clear, concise language that is open to as little interpretation as possible. Never oversell good news, undersell bad news, or change the words you use because you’re scared of how the person will react. Clarity is king when it comes to communicating to build trust.

When line managers delegate, they pass across responsibility but not accountability and it’s this that underpins psychological safety.

Maintain accountability when you delegate…

Trust is linked to psychological safety. When we feel safe in intimate relationships, we trust our partners. The same is true of the workplace. As employees, we feel empowered to push our boundaries, play to our strengths, act in the interests of the organisation and be as productive as possible if we feel the organisation has our back.

When line managers delegate, they pass across responsibility but not accountability and it’s this that underpins psychological safety: an understanding that the manager will be on the side of the employee if something goes wrong. When this relationship is clear, mutual trust and commitment are built.

…but give up increasing amounts of responsibility

There are different types of delegation, from the entirely directive (“Do exactly as I say and tell me what happened”) to complete autonomy (“Make whatever decision you think is best”) and everything in between.

Although mission-critical tasks may always require close managerial supervision, in general line managers should look to give increasing amounts of responsibility when they delegate. Over time there should be less need for check-ins or reviews as employees become more proficient and confident in their decision-making.

Relationships should ultimately get more trusting over time: when they don’t, people instinctively assume the worst, that their manager doesn’t believe in them. If the manager feels there are reasons why they can’t increase the responsibility given in delegation, they should take corrective action so that it can take place in future.

Don’t fall prey to the ‘say-do’ gap

The ‘say-do’ gap is the space between what managers say they’re going to do and what they actually do. It’s very dangerous because it can lead to a negative precedent on trust: if people think you don’t follow through on your words, they will find it hard to trust you.

Line managers must only say what they intend to follow up on and always keep in the back of their mind that there are consequences if they say they are going to do something and then don’t do it.

This is further complicated by implicit dos, which are perceptions of commitment that employees see but managers don’t that can destroy trust without the manager ever knowing. This is why it’s so important that managers are aware of how what they’re saying comes across to others: is there an implicit commitment of action hidden in their words?

Commit to ongoing development

Training and development are essential to organisational success for many reasons. When it comes to trust, investing in L&D shows the organisation has faith in its people and is committed to giving them the tools and knowledge to improve their performance.

It’s so important that managers are aware of how what they’re saying comes across to others: is there an implicit commitment of action hidden in their words?

At the local level, line managers can be committed to development even without access to central budgets. This can include mentoring arrangements, coaching sessions, effective reviews after delegation, highlighting interesting online courses or sources of information and generally viewing each individual through a growth mindset lens.

For the individual, when line managers seek to develop us, we trust they have our interests at heart and that they view us as a positive force within the organisation. In turn, we trust their instincts and ideas and become committed to reaching higher plains of performance.

Looking to build trust across your organisation? Don’t forget to take a look at our article on how line managers can build trust with their teams.