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Braving Trust at Work

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We often think of trust as something that is important in establishing healthy personal relationships, but trust is important in our professional relationships as well. 

According to Abbey Lewis, senior product manager at Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning, in a professional environment in which lack of trust prevails: “If the team doesn’t trust the leader, they’ll be reluctant to follow, and aren’t likely to apply their best efforts. A leader who doesn’t trust their team is probably going to be micromanaging, looking over everyone’s shoulders, stalling progress and just plain irritating everyone. And if team members don’t trust each other, there’ll be more backbiting, credit-grabbing, and duplication of efforts than there is positive, productive collaboration.

In a trusting professional environment, leadership clearly communicates their goals and openly invites the team to work collaboratively on outcomes and possible solutions. Team members work closely together, asking advice from each other, sharing helpful hints, and having their colleagues’ backs.”

But how do we build trust? Brene Brown is a researcher and storyteller, who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She suggests that there are building blocks to creating trust, that it has an anatomy, and has created the acronym BRAVING to explain the elements necessary for trusting relationships:

Setting boundaries is making clear what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why.

You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations, so you don’t overpromise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.

You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.

You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential.

Choosing courage over comfort; choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; and practicing your values, not just professing them.

I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.

Extending the most generous interpretation to the intentions, words, and actions of others.

Generosity requires not making negative assumptions about another person’s words and actions or “writing a story” that assumes the worst. Think about the work example for reliability above, imagine how it might impact a relationship with a team member if instead of assuming that they are consistently late on deadlines because they don’t care about the work or how it impacts others, you assumed that they care deeply about the work and get curious about what’s creating this pattern. If the issue is overpromising, you may be able to work out solutions together to get deadlines met.

Part of what lining out these elemental building blocks allows us to do, is recognize when trust has been broken and develop solutions to repair that trust. For example, if I find myself not able to ask for what I need or perceive that other team members can’t ask me for what they need, it may be an indication that we have some work to do on nonjudgement. Identifying where the breakdown in trust is occurring can help us know where to go to repair it. 

For more on the anatomy of trust and what it looks like in practice, check out this video from Dr. Brown. You can also check out her website for other useful tools.

If you or your team has another approach for how you establish trust, please share with us your tips, tricks, and recommendations using the comments below or by emailing us at

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