How to Build Trust with Your Boss
If you want to have bigger and better opportunities in your career, it's crucial to have a good working relationship with your boss.
And having a strong relationship depends on building trust. Trust that you're going to get the job done, trust that you're going to be supportive, and trust that you are going to represent the team well, internally and externally.
While trust is definitely a two-way street, let's focus on the part that you can control: how well you are building trust with your boss.
Three Strategies for Building Trust with Your Boss
In my experience, there are three ways that you can build trust and they're interrelated.
1. Good Contracting Upfront
This is about how you set expectations at the start of your relationship.
As an example of what good contracting upfront does NOT look like, when I was very junior in my career my new boss gave me an assignment to put together a one-pager on each client to help us prepare for our meetings the next week.
I did a ton of work and created these highly detailed one-pagers. I proudly handed them in to my boss and his reaction was, “Whoa, that's way too much detail. I wanted a quick-and-dirty brief. And frankly I would've preferred to have it a day or two ago.”
This was definitely not the way I wanted to start my career!
Good contracting upfront involves making sure you understand the task or project you’ve been asked to do. Here are three questions that have served me well in my career:
- What does success look like?
- What standard of excellence are we shooting for?
- What's the timeline? Are there milestones?
It’s so important to ask these questions and gain clarity on what’s expected of you.
- Knowing what results you're shooting for will give you the awareness to negotiate for more time or resources if you need them.
- Knowing what “done” looks like will prevent you from going over the top and wasting time like I did.
- And knowing your project timeline and milestones gives you a helpful framework for updating your boss on what's going on.
Which leads us to the second trust-building strategy.
2. Operational Transparency
Operational transparency is a concept from Ryan W. Buell, UPS Foundation Associate Professor of Service Management at the Harvard Business School.
In our context, it’s about making your progress, and potentially your process, visible to your boss as you go.
Think about restaurants where you can see the kitchen and the chefs working from your table. Studies have shown that when the diner sees the effort, they value the experience more. And when the chefs see the impact they're having, they feel more appreciated and are more likely to go the extra mile. It’s a win-win.
Think about how you can create the same effect in your work situation. Operational transparency could show up as giving progress updates to your boss as you complete each milestone. Or you could be a bit more creative with your updates and perhaps even involve your boss by saying something like:
“We're about to finish phase one, and if you have additional thoughts that you'd like us to incorporate, please let me know before the weekend so that we can make that happen.”
Remember that giving a progress update does not mean sharing all the gory details. Share the amount that will make your boss feel comfortable that they can trust you.
Operational transparency will help your boss understand and appreciate the value you're delivering. It can also help them trust that you’re going to get your job done, which is especially helpful if your boss is a micromanager or if you’re working remotely.
Now, onto the third strategy.
3. Moments of Delight
This is about surprising your boss in a positive way. For maximum effect, only do this occasionally because if you do it all the time then it will become your new “normal”.
As an example of how creating moments of delight builds trust, consider the case of Oberoi Hotels, a luxury hotel group in India. They implemented a policy where they give their staff members a small budget that they can spend whenever they see an opportunity to delight a guest. The hotel staff can go ahead and execute right then and there as they see fit. And this policy has resulted in the hotel consistently receiving very high ratings.
In your case, creating these moments of delight means tailoring these experiences to your boss (or bosses!) and what counts as great in their eyes.
It might be that you show extra creativity or finish something way before the deadline. Or you may look to solve a problem or take care of something that your boss doesn't like to do, so that when they say, “Oh no, now we’ve got to do X,” you can say, “It’s already done!”
You might also consider how to make your boss look good in front of their boss. Or you could bring something you learned elsewhere into your current work and surprise your boss with a new perspective or new strategies.
Creating moments of delight for your boss makes you memorable for great reasons. It can turn your boss into your “raving fan” and it helps you showcase your unique strengths.
Building Trust is Worth the Effort
When it comes to your relationship with your boss, having their trust is essential. It’s what can make the difference between achieving the success you deserve versus stagnating in your career.
The thing is, building trust is an ongoing endeavor that takes time, effort and multiple touchpoints. Like any worthwhile relationship, you have to work at it. But while it takes a great deal of effort to build, trust can be destroyed in just moments.
That’s why it pays to focus and make sure that you continue to build trust with your boss on an ongoing basis. It’s really worth the effort.
Which of these three strategies will most move the needle for you in building trust with your boss?
Leave me a comment and let me know. I'd love to hear from you.
Many thanks May for a great video and advice as usual and always appreciated.
Thank YOU, Barry!
Great advice May. Equally applicable to contract / consultancy work Thanks for sharing your wisdom! 🙏🏻
You’re welcome, Leigh, and agree it applies to contract / consultancy work.
Thanks for your guide, I will apply this with my boss.
Great, Rimi! Let us know how things go.
Love the comments on Operational Transparency! As someone who has often had managers who never did the job/tasks of my role, there can be a disconnect on how difficult a seemingly minor task really is.
So true, Ali. I’ve been in your situation as well and know how that feels.
I’ve also been the manager who doesn’t know how difficult a seemingly minor task is, and in the early days, I didn’t think to ask what it takes to get something done. Since then, I’ve learned how important it is to create an environment where people feel comfortable to educate me on what’s involved, whether or not I ask. (And hopefully I remember to ask!)
Awesome tips, but how do you rebuild trust? I mean if it was there once but then you lost it.. how do you gain it back?
Trust takes time to build but can be lost in a moment. Rebuilding it will take time too, and it’s hard. Each situation has its own nuances and a lot will depend on the specifics.
In my experience, it’s important to find a way to clear the air. Then begins the long rebuilding period. And sometimes, the other person is not ready to trust again. Hopefully that’s not the case with your situation.
Wishing you well in rebuilding your relationship.
What do you do when you had the trust ( I am a strong manager) but lost it now because I stood up against him for forcing my direct report’s ratings. And now he does not showcase me anymore.
That’s a tough one. Sometimes when you do the right thing, it causes a rift between you and the person you had to stand up to.
Having had a similar experience, I found that I was able to get back to somewhat neutral ground (by getting input from some of my mentors and learning that the issue was one of his feeling that I challenged his integrity, then apologizing for anything I might have done to offend him, and then having a lot of touch points to get back to a more “normal” interaction) but our relationship was never the same. In my case, I unfortunately did the equivalent of “standing up” to my manager in public – if yours was in private, you’ll have a better chance.
In the end, I had to find a new sponsor and move forward from there.
Hope this helps, and wishing you well.
Great video and advice, as always May! I have been blessed with being able to establish trustworthy and fruitful relationships with all my managers–that has been key in having a successful career.