Pamela Barnum: Building trust at work


I used to work as an undercover police officer in the drug enforcement section. When I first started working undercover, one of the officers (let’s call him Dale) was applying for a promotion. He had years of undercover experience, and he was ready to take on a new role as a supervising Detective Sergeant.

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As a rookie undercover, I respected this officer and valued his advice. Before too long, he received his promotion and was transferred to a new unit. Less than a year later, I was assigned to an undercover project that would be supervised by Dale.

Initially, Dale was great to work with. Because he had undercover experience, he had great ideas on how to make things happen, and he was open to listening to the plans other officers put forward.

Then, things slowly began to shift. Dale started talking about people on the team behind their backs. It started out as a casual comment and escalated to full-on gossip.

When something went wrong on the undercover project, Dale would berate the undercover officers in front of the entire team.

But when we were successful, Dale would stand in front of the team and pat himself on the back for such a brilliant play.

Since we spend about one-third of our lives at work (around 90,000 hours over our lifetime), it’s important to enjoy what we do, and part of that enjoyment comes from working in a culture that values and promotes trust.

Building and maintaining trusting relationships in your workplace happens with every action you take and every interaction you have with your colleagues.

Here are three ways you can build trust in your workplace today:

Give praise when it’s due

What Dale never learned was that the most trustworthy people are those who accept responsibility when things go wrong and shine the spotlight on others when things go right. People who are able to do this are confident in their abilities, and that confidence inspires trust.

Giving honest and authentic praise builds a foundation of appreciation which in turn builds trust. The SHRM (The Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society) reports that nearly 80% of employees say that recognition makes them work harder and makes them more productive.

Avoid office gossip

Do you remember the Seinfeld episode where Elaine says, “You can tell me. I’ll keep it in the vault.” Jerry replies, “No good. Too many people know the combination.”

What happens when we open the vault and share the contents with others? We destroy trust not only with the original person who confided in us, we also destroy trust with the person we are sharing the vault contents with because we are demonstrating that we can’t be trusted with confidential information.

When you’re talking about another person, ask yourself if you’d say the same thing if they were in the room (or on the phone, cc’d on the text or email). If the answer is no, change the conversation. When you choose direct conversation over gossip, you become a more genuine, compassionate, and trustworthy person.

Be consistent

When you’re consistent at work, it produces trust because you demonstrate that you’re dependable and reliable to the team.

Similarly, maintaining a consistent mood means that others know what to expect when they’re dealing with you. If you’re happy and secure one day and then neurotic and raging the next, you will erode trust with your colleagues.

Trust isn’t just about telling the truth. Trust is founded on authentic appreciation, integrity, and consistency.

Pamela Barnum has enjoyed an accomplished 20 year career in the criminal justice system: first as an undercover police officer in the drug enforcement unit and then as a federal prosecuting attorney. She will speak in Fort St. John at the 2019 Spark Women's Leadership Conference in May.

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