Trust & Communication: Foundations of Any Relationship

Relationships take on many forms. We have business relationships with coworkers, employees, bosses, supervisors, vendors, and clients. We have family and spouse relationships. We have friends and people that we meet through mutual friends.

Each category of relationship has a different level of intimacy but the same basic element is required in them all: trust. Trust comes from communication — both big talk and small talk.

Communication in the Workplace

“In management settings, trust increases information sharing, openness, fluidity, and cooperation.”

It’s easy in this age of technology to take communication for granted — to presume communication. In decades past we overly relied upon in-person meetings. They were deemed a waste of time. And then we moved to conference calls, which have become a total joke. And now, we’re expected to develop relationships and collaborate on projects  solely with text-based tools like Asana, BaseCamp, Trello, and Slack.

I read an article this week called “Let’s end the ‘schedule a call’ culture.” In it the author says,

“I’m not entirely sure how we’re going to replace the schedule a call culture. Collaboration tools is probably the easiest answer, but …  Maybe we all just put our heads down and wait for the AI robots to take our jobs. But first, let’s discuss this schedule a call culture — albeit briefly.” Ted Bauer

Toxic Communication*

“In a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one.”

If you see warning signs early on in the relationship of unwanted behavior (badmouthing, gossip, indiscretion, inconsistent statements (lying), rudeness (especially to wait staff), irritability, tardiness, addiction, etc.), those red flags should be noted, especially if you notice a pattern.

People don’t improve their behavior as they get to know you; rather, they feel more comfortable and become more “themselves.”

Red flags are warnings to us all. We would be wise to heed them.

Nonverbal Communication

But how much communication is really verbal? This is wildly debated, but I would argue that if you only rely upon the written word you miss a lot.

“One way of increasing your accuracy is applying the 3 C’s of Nonverbal Communication: context, clusters, and congruence.” Psychology Today

In this world of text messages, email, and Slack, it’s a good time to talk about how much of communication is actually verbal — regardless of where you land on the research — there’s more to communication than the actual words.

So how do you project warmth and build relationships in a primarily digital age?

Open Communication

Trust comes from open communication. Open communication occurs when people feel safe. We like to think it’s more complicated than that. It’s not.

You see, if the conditions are wrong, we are forced to expend our own time and energy to protect ourselves from each other, and that inherently weakens the organization. When we feel safe inside the organization, we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.” Simon Sinek 

How can you make people feel safe?

In their article called “Connect, Then Lead” on Harvard Business Review, authors Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger say:

“A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence—and to lead—is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas. Even a few small nonverbal signals—a nod, a smile, an open gesture—can show people that you’re pleased to be in their company and attentive to their concerns. Prioritizing warmth helps you connect immediately with those around you, demonstrating that you hear them, understand them, and can be trusted by them.”

Communication & Culture

Culture comes from how a group relates to each other. This can be good or bad. So, intentional community building is all the rage these days. Companies who are intentional with their culture protect their culture. They seem to do this in one of two ways: either they all work in-house or have regular meetings on video (Buffer, Automattic are two examples).

“There needs to be no advantage to being in the office, and no disadvantage to being out of the office.”” Joel Gascoigne, Buffer (They have since gotten rid of their office in San Francisco.)

Regardless of your preference, company culture is definitely top-down.

When asked how a middle manager can affect company culture, Simon Sinek gave this advice:

Treat those in your realm of influence as you believe important. Meaning, do what you can where you can.

If you feel uncomfortable at your workplace, perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere.

It’s up to you.

Sometimes, believe it or not, it’s difficult to engage in conversations with people. If you want a better relationship, perhaps it’s up to you.

Maybe you need to be the person who asks how they are doing, if they watched [insert sports game here] last night, or patted them on the back (verbally, with emojis, or giphys in Slack) for a job well done.

11 responses to “Trust & Communication: Foundations of Any Relationship”

  1. This: “Trust comes from open communication. Open communication occurs when people feel safe. We like to think it’s more complicated than that. It’s not.”

    I love everything about this post. I kept highlighting different parts, and nodding my head in agreement.

    Thanks for writing it,

  2. Another thought provoking article Bridget! This really stood out to me “It’s easy in this age of technology to take communication for granted — to presume communication.” … It’s something I run into on almost a weekly basis, and I don’t even work remotely! I’m on-campus 5 days a week, but our team largely relies on emails to communicate and it is the one area we fail on a consistant basis! Often, one person will assume a schedule change or event has been communicated to everyone who needs to know, but it’s often not the case.

    As with anything, communication takes ‘serious’ practice and I’ve found it’s better to over-communicate then to assume 😉

  3. Yes. You have to be serious (or intentional) with communication. It’s better to over communicate than under-communicate. As always, thank you for taking the time to read and comment, too.

  4. Trust is key to communications and building relationships. I believe you can build those relationships in person and online just as effectively. I have worked in the traditional office, flexible environments, and completely remote. It is all in the way a person communicates via the different tools they have. I also think going back to another topic you have written about you have to be willing to be vulnerable to open the doors to build the relationships.

    Good post! Thank you for all of your great topics and points of view!


  5. Just reread this again, Bridget! At a party this weekend, my friend was saying that being “aggressively friendly” is key to success at parties. Maybe it’s also the key to success at life in general.


  6. I was thinking maybe more “assertively friendly.” But “aggressively friendly” certainly did describe the person we met at that party–she came around and introduced herself to EVERYONE, shook their hands, and said something.

    Probably an extrovert! Hahaha!