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How to Build Trust in an Untrustworthy World

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Our day and age seems to involve one contentious topic after another, including pandemic protocols, social justice responses, and political correctness. Adding to the chaos is the ability of anyone and everyone to add their own voice and opinion, each trying to be heard and each claiming to be correct.

Amid this war of words, whom do we trust? Even more importantly, why do we trust them?

New research from Crucial Learning (formerly VitalSmarts), a leader in corporate learning and development, sheds light on trust today and how individuals, groups, and organizations can maintain or regain confidence in their words and actions.

When asked what has happened to their trust in different groups over the past year, 41 percent of the 1,374 surveyed stated their trust in family members increased a lot or some, the highest of any other group. Friends came in second at 36 percent, and co-workers landed in third at 31 percent.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a whopping 77 percent responded that their trust decreased a lot or some in their national political leaders. Sixty-three percent said it decreased in their local political leaders, and an additional 44 percent claimed the same for their employer.

How have political and corporate leaders lost so much trust? Top answers from respondents included:

  • The person said or did things that made the respondent question their character, intelligence, or motives (16 percent).
  • They didn’t tell the truth (13 percent).
  • They said they stood for one thing, but their actions suggested otherwise (13 percent).

All three of the above-mentioned traits have a common theme—what we say can quickly damage our trustworthiness, which requires action to regain trust.


“Trust has two components: motivation and ability,” said Joseph Grenny, leading researcher at Crucial Learning and coauthor of Crucial Conversations. “Without pure motives and practicing what you preach, gaining and keeping trust is impossible. But when motives, words and actions are aligned, a mutual understanding and confidence is formed and relationships flourish.”

How can leaders develop this mutual understanding and confidence and cultivate trust between themselves and their employees? To do so, respondents in our survey emphasized that these behaviors were most important:

  • Actions are congruent with what someone says they stand for (15 percent).
  • They tell the truth (14 percent).
  • They give me and people like me respect (12 percent).
  • They are reliable and keep promises (12 percent).

Conflict in society is nothing new. In fact, healthy disagreement is vital to organizations and communities. It’s how we discuss issues that matter and practice what we preach.

So, stop living in suspicion and build trust! Here are four tips to get you started:


1. Show regard to interests beyond your own. Acting selfishly breeds distrust. Conversely, when we invite all viewpoints and strive to find a mutual purpose, trust follows.

2. Be consistent in messaging and behavior. Nothing kills trust faster than being a hypocrite. Ask any politician who issued pandemic guidelines and was then caught breaking those same guidelines. Our words must match our actions.

3. Invite collaboration. When we treat others as friends to work with rather than enemies to subdue, trust is built even when opinions or beliefs differ.

4. Keep commitments. To gain trust, we must not only speak; we also must act. The extra effort involved in backing up our words with our deeds shows our dedication.

About the Author

Emily Gregory is vice president of design and delivery at VitalSmarts. She is the lead designer for Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, and The Power of Habit and Getting Things Done. Gregory writes, speaks, and consults with Fortune 500 organizations. Her passion is helping people be great at being people.

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Very interesting insights and I appreciate the 4 tips to demo trustworthiness. I'm curious about whether the financial performance during the pandemic - organizations who were struggling more and therefore having to message about that to employees, if those organizations also drove up the numbers for a 44% decline in trust of employer.
Thanks for the research share.
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Trust is vital to being a leader. It's unfortunate how much productivity is wasted at work due to a lack of trust in a leader. Thanks for sharing these tips.
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