Coaching Area: Building Trust

Building trust in relationships with customers, team members, and stakeholders is an essential skill for all members of a project team, especially for those leading significant tasks. The best way to improve your reputation is to actively build trust with those you encounter. Great project managers and business analysts work to be universally trusted and respected by their peers, community members and project teams because they actively build trust with everyone. Trust is earned primarily by doing what you say you'll do. Follow-through is absolutely critical to building relationships. Trust doesn't just happen, and it isn't created by applying formal techniques (though they can certainly help); it is earned by acting consistently. Trust and respect are earned, over time.

Building Trust in challenging leadership roles.

Trust is built by acting consistently in three areas: how you handle work, how you handle information, and how you handle feedback.

Build trust through the way you handle work. Do what you say you will do, even if requires extra effort and personal sacrifice. If you don't believe you'll be able to do something, or if you don't intend to do it, don't say you'll do it. If someone else "volunteers" you to do something against your will, be honest about what you can and can't accomplish, and when you'll deliver. By all means speak up, as in most cases silence is taken as agreement.

Do what needs to be done. Assume personal responsibility for the good of the project or organization. Take time to plan your work, and show up prepared. "Do the right things, and do things right." The most successful project leaders and analysts are self-motivators who conscientiously plan and manage the requirements activities, execute on the plan, adjust the plan as needed, and wrap up the project without a lot of follow-up or handholding from anyone else.

Build trust through the way you handle information. Actively seek information, and strive to understand. Ask good questions, and admit what you don't know. Become knowledgeable in your discipline, learn from reputable sources, and give credit to your mentors. Build information resources (people, books, websites, technical groups, etc.), and know how to help others find information, without pretending to know it all.

When you are entrusted with sensitive information, respect its confidentiality, just as you would like others to handle your personal information. When someone vents anger or frustration, scrupulously avoid throwing their words back at them later, out of context.

Build trust through the way you handle feedback. Seek opportunities to offer coaching and feedback. Make your advice constructive, timely, and relevant. Take time to share what you've learned. Keep it informal and friendly: "I tried X on another project, and it worked out well. Let me know if you'd like to try it; I'll send you the details." Or, even more candidly, "I tried Y on my last project, and it's turning out to be a really bad call. If you think you'd like to try something similar, I'll be glad to share what I learned." Adopt an attitude of continuous improvement, and invite those around you give you feedback. Ask for specific feedback about your deliverables, your strengths and weaknesses, and how you handle specific situations. When approaching a new situation, ask for help or advice. And when others give you feedback, do something about it. Let the person who took the time to give you feedback know that you are grateful, and that you're taking it to heart.

Does building trust mean that you can never fail, never be wrong? Hardly. Being able to admit your mistakes with grace and good humor will serve you well. Those who work with you will want to see whether you are consistent. They will evaluate whether you are trustworthy based on what you do most of the time. If you slip up, they'll forgive your mistakes, knowing how you usually handle things.

As you build trust, you'll discover that you have the power to influence others without having direct authority. As trust is developed your business partners will become more accepting of and aligned with your judgment, because they trust that you've thought through the issues, weighed them conscientiously, and applied good processes. Having earned their trust, you can look forward to the moments when co-workers will seek your advice and take action because you—a respected, trusted colleague—suggested it, and they trust your advice.

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