Need we say 2020 has been difficult?  From uncertain futures to worry and fear, it has been no picnic.  Throw in an election and you’ve got yourself one emotionally draining year. Through it all, we’re still challenged to find ways to maintain and build trust with those critical to our professional success.  Building trust can be a tricky dance no matter what year we’re doing it, but when the virtual workplace prevents us from actually seeing the people that we’re trying to influence it becomes even more complicated.  All that to say, building trust in 2020 can be done; in order to help you avoid getting tripped up in the details, I’ve boiled it down to a nice easy two step that anyone can follow.

Step 1: Don’t Ghost People

My brilliant friend, John Kim, likes to say, “responsiveness is cheap currency.”  What he means  is that how you react to the needs of others is an easy way to strengthen or ruin your credibility and trust with them.  When others ask us a question, have an inquiry or generally need our assistance, our speedy response communicates to them, “I’m here for you” and “I want to help.” Who doesn’t need that message in 2020?  This is particularly heightened when so many of us are “isolated” from our coworkers, furiously completing e-mails and conducting virtual meetings from our kitchen table.  One of the communication principles that I regularly preach is “in absence of communication, people almost always assume the worst.”  In no time is this more relevant than today.  Want to really ruin things with your boss?  Just don’t respond to her e-mails, texts and any other form of communication.  You’ll see your trust score with her drop before your eyes.

“But Brandon,” you say, “how can I be super responsive to the needs of others all the time when I’ve got my own stuff going on? I’d like to get my boss those numbers she needs for her meeting on Wednesday, but I’m in the middle of helping my third grader with math class until noon.” Yes, friends, these are the days of 2020 indeed. Luckily, (or unluckily?) you’re not the only one suffering in this way. What I’ve seen others do well in this situation is communicate where they’re at. Maybe when Third Grade Math class begins, these folks turn on their Out of Office with a message that says something to the effect of “Thanks for your message. I’m currently away for the next half hour for virtual school with my child; once math class is over, I will respond to your needs.” In this simple way, they’ve communicated that their co-worker or client’s message was received and established expectations of what will happen next. The point is, there is no radio silence; the other side feels heard. They’ve responded and that’s the first step.

Step 2: Lose the Costume

If we had a time machine and could go aaallll the way to a distant year, say like 2019, we would be astounded with all the ways in which we acted differently.  We’d see that back then, leaders had the “option” of being authentic and vulnerable with their people, but it wasn’t required.  We all dressed up in our best professional attire and went to work, never letting on that our kitchen was a mess, our kids were driving us crazy, or that our dog obsessively barked at anything that moved.  In addition to keeping up our appearances, we understood that others did the same thing.  No need to get “personal” at work by asking too many questions about family and home life.  We all had things neatly compartmentalized, and we liked it that way (at least we told ourselves that we did).

That dance doesn’t work in 2020.  In order to gain and strengthen trust with others today, we need to learn how to not only share some of the “realness” in our lives, but we must also create space and openness to learn about some of the “realness” in the lives of others.  Getting curious to learn how a coworker is juggling two kids at home and the busy demands of his or her job is essential to building trust with them.  And when they ask us how things are, we need to avoid our desire to answer the question with “fine” and take a step to go a little deeper. 

“Why?” you ask. “What does it matter? What’s the point of all this sharing?” I recently had a conversation with Mike Robbins author of “We’re All in This Together” about this topic. Remember the adage “Sharing is caring?” Turns out, it’s true—and important.  Sharing with those we work with is about finding common ground with each other. When we share personal details, it creates a foundation of compassion for one another. This is crucial in times of conflict and stress (hello 2020?) and it establishes what Robins calls a “mutuality of care.” When we know others care about us and they know we care about them, Robbins explains, it allows us to  grow and challenge each other in ways that are otherwise impossible. This mutuality of care creates the kinds of teams and workplaces that are able to go to the next level because they trust one another and share a willingness to push each other and be pushed to go toward improvement. If there’s no trust, there’s no willingness.

That’s it. Two easy steps to take the fright out of creating trust in 2020. Luckily, it’s not that complicated of a dance. First, respond to the needs of others as efficiently as possible. When time doesn’t allow for immediacy, communicate your plan so that others know what to expect. Second, share to care. Go deeper and reveal just a little bit more about yourself in an effort to create community within your team or group. I promise, this will only lead to good things. For that reason alone, I can’t wait for 2021!