I really struggle when people ask me what to do if their teammates don’t trust them. Why? Because the word trust is one of the bigger, messier, and less helpful words we use in teams.  But, teamwork is messy, so I can’t let that stop me.  Here’s how I respond when someone is trying to repair trust with a teammate.

Figure out what they mean when they say trust.  Are we talking about very basic ideas like whether or not they feel they know you, or whether they think you are competent?  Or are we into issues of your reliability or even your integrity?  It makes a big difference in how you solve the problem, so best to ask some good open ended questions and start listening.

Depending on what you learn, you will need different tactics to repair trust.

Fix trust at the level of connection.

If the issue is that the person doesn’t really know you nor have much experience with you, then you need to find ways to connect.  Share something about yourself, your background, or what you’re passionate about.  Ask similar questions of them.  Find ways to share informal time over food—breaking bread together is a very primal way of building trust.

Fix trust at the level of competence.

If the trust issue relates to perceptions of your knowledge or credibility, then you need to help build their confidence in you.  Fight the urge to talk more or to defend your credentials.  Strange as it might seem, your credibility will go up if you ask good questions and zip it!  Demonstrate your know what you’re talking about by asking insightful questions and show your willingness to hear and understand…that will do more for your credibility than reciting your extensive resume.

Fix trust at the level of reliability.

If trust has eroded because you haven’t followed through on commitments, you need to do two things. First, make sure that expectations were clear and that they were shared.  If you thought you were committing something different than what they thought, clear the air.  If you really just didn’t deliver, apologize for any negative impact your failure to follow through caused for them.  Then, next time you’ll need to reduce the stress by using frequent milestones and build their confidence by delivering on them.

Fix trust at the level of integrity.

If trust between you and a teammate is broken at the level of your values or your ethics, it’s going to be a long climb back.  You will need to play a big role in taking ownership of what you did that destroyed trust in the first place.  You will certainly need to explain your behavior and might even need to apologize publicly.  And all of that will only get you another chance to prove you are trustworthy with your words and, more importantly, your actions.

If you don’t trust your teammates or they don’t trust you, your team is going nowhere.  Stop, figure out where in the hierarchy things broke down, then take action to set things right.  It might be a little uncomfortable, but showing that you take these issues seriously will only make you more trustworthy!

Further Reading

The Surprising Source of Most Trust Issues

Counter-Intuitive Advice on Building Trust

Be Proactive in Building your Trust in Others

13 Responses to What do I do if my teammate doesn’t trust me?

  1. Brian Wellman

    Liane – a great blog with practical tips for a touchy topic. In teams I’ve worked with and teams I’ve worked on, trust is always a fundamental requirement for people. One way or another it will affect a team’s performance – either for the better or for the worse.

  2. Tiina

    Great blog Liane…..when I think of trust I often think about my team mates ‘ having my back’……where do you think that fits in?

    • Hi Tiina, Teammates having your back is a great way to describe the feeling when trust is high. I think it fits in at different levels. It can be a reliability issue. If you’re about to drop a ball and your teammates grab it for you, then they have your back. It can also be an integrity issue. A teammate who stand up for you instead of taking advantage when you’re vulnerable is definitely earning trust at the integrity level. I sure love that feeling that I can count on my team–it takes a village!

  3. Sonya Stevens

    Great advice, Liane! Trust is such an important part of productive relationships. What part do you think other team members need to play? Even when they may have reason not to trust a teammate, do you think it’s important with them to be open and come with a positive assumption?

  4. Mike Royer

    Trust is certainly a major part of building succesful teams. The team leader sets the tone by promoting an environment where by all members receive fair treatment and recognition. It takes a long time to build trust, but one poorly delivered message or directive to compromise it. Let your staff know you have the confidence in them to get the job done and that you will support them. If everyone on the team feels that sense of trust, when tough issues do arise, they can be resolved much easier.

  5. Dave

    Very interesting blog Tina….To me, trust is extremely important in teams but not always easy to achieve full trust. As we all know, trust in all our realtionships takes time to develope and build this trust in others, but only takes seconds to destroy. I strongly agree with what you said in your blog “it’s a long climb” to regain this trust and will take serious commitment from the individual to regain this trust.
    The level of competence trust is also very true. As a leader we do not always have the answer and it is important for you to be honest with your team and like you said will hopefully bring some credibility with your team. Good blog and insights…

  6. Steve Thompson

    I fully agree with what you have put forward Laine. I agree with how you have broke it out into different levels of trust and how we should determine what level is out of sync before we can fix it. In the business setting, as the leader of a team, as in each and everyone’s personal life, trust at all levels is something we must work hard at to achieve and keep, but we can lose it in the blink of an eye. Please remember once trust is lost it is much harder to get back the second time.

  7. Trust has to start at the top with consistency. If the leader faulters on any trust issues the followers quickly spread the issue and then the real battle begins. We need to live in a culture where we trust and believe in our leaders so that we can ultimately let go of our fears and become more productive. To get the trust bank is at its highest level, the whole team needs to be making deposits.

  8. Grant Mitchell

    Liane……….a very straight forward view and solid advice in regards to gaining and repairing trust issues in what is a very fast paced and ever changing business world today. One thing which often gets missed in today’s environment is productive use of the various communication tools we have at our finger tips. In my view email is simply abused and can lead to misinterpretations of a message which at times leads to the start of a “trust issue” or “cya” situation. People need to talk, the more we do, the greater we understand our teams and each other…….the easier it becomes to earn respect, trust and grow the strength of our organizations.

    • Hi Grant, thanks for your comment. You make an important point about the different modes of communication. We certainly over-use email, don’t we. It’s really a matter of stopping to think about your subject matter as well as your intended audience before picking a communication method. For difficult discussions and points of clarification, voice-to-voice (and preferably face-to-face) really is the best. I sometimes write the email of what I want to say to someone and use it as the skeleton for our conversation. I think more clearly in writing, so taking the time to think through what I really want to say can be useful.

  9. Matthew Halstead

    Liane, a very good read with a practical application. Working relationships are based on fair and equal treatment that translate to a foundation of trust. Leaders create a robust and healthy environment for thier team by setting clear expectations and keeping good on those expectations. Great blog.

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