Starting a new job can be scary. Because so much time is spent at work, transitioning into a new role can be anxiety-inducing—it’s a big life change, almost like moving cities or beginning a new relationship!
To prepare, you might brush up on your skills or learn everything there is to know about your new company. And of course, that stuff is important—it’s likely why you got the job in the first place!
But what arguably matters even more are your relationships with your new coworkers. Your skills determine how you work, but the bonds you form with your new teammates will determine how well you work together. And working together is the defining factor of success within teams; it’s quite literally how you get things done.
That’s why establishing trust is one of the most important things you can do to ensure success in your new role. In this article, you’ll discover why trust matters and learn easy, evidence-based ways to build it—without doing that thing where you fall backwards and hope your new coworkers catch you.
Trust Matters On Teams (Trust Us)
Trust is so important for teams because it boils down to psychological safety. This might sound dramatic: after all, it’s not like you’re about to get mauled by a bear in your new office or while sitting at your remote setup!
But the absence of physical threats doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll feel safe. To do good work, you need to know that if you make a mistake or ask a silly question, it’s okay—that you won’t see repercussions for showing vulnerability.
Great, collaborative work happens when people feel focused, creative, and relaxed; when the ideas are flowing and everyone is playing off each others’ energy. It takes trust to get into a place where you freely ask your teammates for help, bounce ideas off each other, and generally bring out the best in each other without fear of judgment.
Trusting workplaces feel positive, safe, and comfortable. And that naturally translates to better work—high levels of trust are correlated with lower workplace stress, more innovation, fast decision making, and better workplace satisfaction.
Think about it: if you don’t feel safe, you’re not going to be productive. You’re going to be looking around for the quickest exit to get away from that bear!
Evaluate Existing Team Trust
Because trust is so centered on communication, it’s not hard to tell how much people trust each other from their body language, or even the way they interact through messaging apps like Slack. Obviously, don’t watch your new teammates like a hawk, but paying attention to how everyone works together will help you evaluate how trusting your workplace is already, and how you can expect to fit in.
What is the overall culture of your new workplace? Do people seem relaxed, laughing and acting casual around each other? If you’re new to a remote team, does everyone use video during their calls, and what does their virtual communication throughout the day look like? Are your new coworkers asking for help if they need it, and following up on new assignments with questions and requests for clarification?
According to Harvard Business Review, trusting teams show appreciation and recognize each other’s strengths, because they see their coworkers as allies rather than threats. That’s not to say they’ll never disagree; in fact, trusting teammates feel safe voicing disagreement respectfully, and conflicts never get personal.
Of course, all workplaces are different. People acting less relaxed and more professional doesn’t mean you’ve entered a low-trust den of backstabbing thieves, especially if you’re in a formal environment like a bank. And on the flip side, the ping-pong tables and casual dress at your trendy new tech company may not mean people actually trust each other. Keep the particulars of your industry and culture in mind when you’re evaluating trust at your new job.
The Importance Of Building Trust Early
If you start building trust with your teammates as early as possible, it will set a strong foundation for the long haul. That’s because how much you trust someone influences how you read their behavior. According to management expert Dana Brown Lee, trust creates a “shield of goodwill” that minimizes miscommunication.
If you think someone is trustworthy, you believe they mean well. You trust that they want the best for you and for the team. Then, you’re more likely to see all their words and actions as coming from a well-intentioned place—even if they’re somewhat ambiguous.
When it comes to communication, nothing is black and white. It’s inevitable that eventually, you and your coworkers will say and do things that could be interpreted in more than one way. That’s where trust comes in. It’s the difference between thinking Jennifer’s trying to get you fired when she sends a curt email, and assuming that she’s probably just thinking about her kid’s skydiving lesson or that big project you know she has due next week.
The Trust Equation: Warmth and Strength
So, how do we show other people that we are trustworthy? One study found that trustworthiness is a combination of warmth and competence. Incredibly, these two traits account for 90% of the impressions we make on other people, good or bad.
This is what Machiavelli was famously talking about when he said that ideally, leaders should aim to be both loved and feared (but, let’s not take advice from him). It’s also been described as the combination of authenticity, vulnerability, and credibility.
Trust is all about being human and likable, but at the same time showing that you can deliver on your responsibilities. When you are first starting a new job, it’s best to focus on warmth. Your work will speak for itself and you have plenty of time to show them you’re worthy of your job. The takeaway here? Start things off on the right foot by showing a smile and compassion to your new team.
5 Ways to Build Trust With Your New Team Members
In your first few weeks on the job, here are some ways you can build warm, friendly, and trusting connections with your new coworkers.
1. Make It Personal
As long as you keep everything work-appropriate, it’s great to share your background, your interests, and even your personal history with your team. Specifically, it can be very powerful to talk about your upbringing and the hardships you’ve overcome; this humanizes you and helps people understand your motivations.
If you aren’t naturally outgoing, this can feel intimidating. But it’s okay to be open, or even vulnerable. Remember, people naturally want to trust people. Getting to know each other will help you connect with your coworkers on a personal level so they can see the human behind the job title.
2. Find Common Ground
Look for things you have in common with your coworkers and find ways to connect with them. For example, if many people on the team tend to go for lunch together, your first few weeks are a good time to join them. If you’re on a remote team, strike up a conversation about the dog in the background of your team member’s Zoom call. Both of your dogs are named Steve?! No way!
It may sound counterintuitive, but feeling connected to your teammates as individuals can help you feel more like a team of collaborators, and less like a group of random people assigned to the same task.
3. Ask For Help
Be sure to speak up with questions and ask for help if you need it. Asking for help is a way to show vulnerability—it can even stimulate oxytocin production, boosting good feelings that make us happy and cooperative at work.
Not only does asking for help show that you see your teammates as competent, but it can also help you preemptively project strength by showing you’ll admit what you don’t know. Doing so will earn you credibility in the future when you do know something.
4. Ask for Feedback
Asking for feedback is similar to asking for help; it shows your new coworkers that you trust their expertise, but don’t feel threatened by them. When you ask for feedback on a recent task or performance, it shows your priority is doing great work that reflects well on everyone, rather than making yourself the star of the show.
Make a point of asking your teammates’ opinions on topics they excel in. For example, you could ask a communications specialist if she thinks your report reads well, even if you didn’t work with her on it directly.
5. Be Conscious Of Body Language And Tone Of Voice
Communication is so much more than words. Body language, expressions, and tone are just as important when it comes to conveying your message.
Here are a few ways to project warmth nonverbally, from the Harvard Business Review:
- Speak at a low, calm volume, more like you’re comforting someone than expressing excitement
- Smile, but don’t fake it. Find a reason to smile, even if that’s briefly changing the topic to share a story or compliment a teammate
- Avoid smiling with raised eyebrows, as it communicates anxiety
- Stand up straight and move deliberately; avoid fidgeting
These days, the role of tone and body language is complicated by the prevalence of remote work. With virtual teams and hybrid work models becoming more common than ever, you may not even be meeting your coworkers face to face.
You might think nonverbal communication is less important in this situation, but actually, the reverse is true. Because there is so much less interaction between remote teammates, the interactions they do have are extremely important. However, you should also give remote teammates more leeway when you’re interpreting their behavior. Since you don’t know what else is going on around them, it’s best to assume that potentially rude or insensitive interactions have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the patchy internet connection or crying baby they’re pulling their hair out trying to deal with.
It’s also important to get super clear on how your team uses remote work tools—for example, in what context does your new team use email vs. Slack vs. video chat? Chances are, your new job already has established ways they navigate the challenges of remote work. Understanding them will help you remain sensitive to their preferences and give context to their behavior.
Remember that “shield of goodwill” we talked about? It’s even more important on remote teams, where people have much less context through which to assess each others’ actions. So while you should be as generous as possible when you’re interpreting your coworkers’ behavior, during your first few weeks, you’ll definitely want to watch your tone.
This is a great time to be as warm, friendly and human as possible—GIFs, emojis, and video chat are your new best friends. And give that Zoom call your full attention–your expressions and tone of voice may be your coworkers’ only basis for establishing trust with you. And if your new team has some downtime, why not suggest having fun with some virtual team-building?
5 Ways To Maintain Trust For The Long Haul
Of course, building trust doesn’t end once you settle into your new position. Here are some ways to maintain warm relationships, preserve the trust you’ve built, and make sure your coworkers see you as strong and competent (but not fearsome):
1. Show Competence With Confidence
Competence is based on your performance, so this is the area of building trust that we all tend to focus on when we’re starting a new job. While you should start by conveying warmth, competence is, of course, equally important—it shows that you actually have the skills that you say you do.
Confidence helps you project competence. If you’re paralyzed by impostor syndrome and have no trust in yourself, how can you expect anyone else to trust you? Remember, you were hired for a reason. If you take your work seriously, trust in your competence will naturally grow over time.
Additionally, while you should be wowing your team early on by displaying a go-getter attitude and completing tasks ahead of schedule, you should aim to maintain that same high-quality level of work for months to come. After all, your manager team will have a close eye on your work during the first weeks and months, so taking pride in your tasks and producing excellent work will be sure to build trust that lasts.
2. Be Transparent And Honest
Honesty is the best policy. Don’t dance around bad news. Your coworkers will lose trust in you if they can sense they’re not getting all the information. It’s also important to be honest when you don’t agree with a coworker or you see a problem in something you’re working on together. Speaking up can be scary, but the strong foundation of trust you built up when you started your job makes difficult conversations like this possible (and less terrifying).
3. Be Reliable
Your teammates need to know they can count on you to get the job done. Follow through on your word so your coworkers learn that when you promise something, they can trust you to deliver.
If something comes up that will prevent you from being able to keep your word, be up front about it right away. This goes back to being honest about bad news; show your coworkers that with you, they’re always getting the full story.
4. Accept Mistakes (Sometimes)
Failure and human error are inevitable. Never attack or blame your coworkers if one of their ideas doesn’t work out, or if their mistake takes time and energy to correct. If people fear being punished for failure, they won’t trust you and they surely won’t feel comfortable bringing new ideas to the table. That affects innovation, speed of decision-making, and the quality of your finished work.
5. Treat Everyone Equally
This should be common sense–playing favorites or talking about coworkers behind their backs is one of the fastest ways to erode trust. Nobody likes a two-faced, gossipy coworker—and it’s something that everyone notices, whether or not you realize it. If you don’t treat people with fairness and integrity, your teammates will quickly learn that they can’t take you at face value or trust your intentions.
Trust That You’re Trustworthy
Trust can feel like a big, heavy topic. After all, we’re talking about psychological threats and safety—concepts many people would associate with scary movies over an average day at the office!
But the good news is that trust boils down to good intentions. If you’re reading up on how to build trust with your new coworkers, it’s safe to say that your intentions are already in the right place.
It’s also a great sign that you’re looking into how to build trust early, before you’ve even started your new job. When it comes to trust, your first few weeks matter—after all, it’s much easier to build trust than to repair it. By starting your job with building trust, you’re taking the opportunity to build strong relationships that will pay off throughout your time in your new role.
With these tips, you can start by establishing strong, warm relationships, then focus on showing coworkers your strength, competence, and skills. And that’s a recipe for building trust—no awkward team-building exercises required.
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