Why Trust Matters in Leadership Communication

Cachet Prescott

Cachet Prescott

Client Director, People Experience

On any given day, leaders find themselves communicating with others in a variety of ways (verbally, nonverbally, body language, written, etc.). Communication lines flow between them and the receivers of their messages on a multitude of topics ranging from everyday communication to feedback to managing conflict to communicating change, and each connection provides an opportunity to either build up or chip away at the trust between all involved in the conversation.

Trust and communication have a reciprocal relationship. Your ability to communicate with others relies on how much they trust you (and vice versa), and how you communicate also impacts that trust. Trust bridges the gap between the words being said and how one perceives and receives your message. It makes the difference between simply hearing what is being expressed vs. finding the intended meaning in your words.

Trust in communication enables leaders to:

  • Build bridges and relationships
  • Establish rapport
  • Build consensus
  • Create feelings of belonging
  • Find common ground
  • Navigate conflict
  • Achieve goals
  • Gain buy-in
  • Inspire loyalty

The Impact of Trust (and Mistrust)

Some leaders believe that people will simply listen to, follow, or buy into an idea because of one’s title or level of seniority. But above and beyond who you are, people need to believe in what you say, and trust plays a vital, non-negotiable role in creating that understanding.

Without trust, what you communicate may be dismissed and ignored, creating a culture of mistrust, disconnection, disloyalty, exclusion, division and even fear.

Each instance of communication provides the opportunity for the person (or people) on the receiving end to determine how much they believe what you say as they mentally assess the answers for following questions for themselves:

Can I trust:

  • You as a person?
  • Your intentions?
  • That you will do what you say you will do?
  • That my thoughts matter in this conversation?
  • That how this conversation might impact me matters?

Measuring Trust

Take a moment to think about the leaders that you trust. Why do you trust them? What is about them that makes them trustworthy in your mind?

Many of the questions above are explored in the book, The Trusted Advisor where readers learn about the Trust Equation (which measures how much someone trusts you) and the four vital elements that contribute to one’s level of trustworthiness:

  • Credibility: How much someone trusts who you are (including your credentials) and what you say
  • Reliability: How consistent are you with your actions and words
  • Intimacy: How safe and secure does one feel with you
  • Self-Orientation: How selfless or selfish you are in the relationship

Think about and consider where you stand with your trustworthiness with those around you, and keep in mind that where you stand with one person may not be where you stand with another (and thus, equating to differing levels of trust in each of those relationships).

For the relationships that you feel you’ve developed a firm level of trust, ask yourself: what were the contributing factors to building trust with this person and how might I be able to apply them in other relationships to build and nurture trust?

Those relationships, however, where there may be weaker levels of trustworthiness present an opportunity to build that trust and ultimately, strengthen the communication bonds.

Communicating with Trust

When you think about your future conversations, consider how you can plant and water the seeds of trust each time you communicate with others.

Each interaction provides the space to proactively think through (and address as needed) the following questions:

  • Have I established the proper rapport with this person?
  • In what ways have I built trust with this person?
  • How can I continue to build and nurture trust with this person?
  • What does this person need from me to see me as trustworthy?

 You can also fortify your trust goodwill through:

  • Active listening
  • Clarity, transparency, and empathy in your messaging
  • Flexing your communication style to your audience
  • Showing interest in your audience and asking open-ended questions

Your Challenge: Choose one stakeholder that you communicate with and assess where you stand in terms of trustworthiness with that person and how that has impacted (positively or negatively) your relationship. Look for ways to either continuing growing or cultivate the trust between you.


Laundry, L. (14 Nov 2019). 8 Essential Leadership Communication Skills. Harvard Business School Online. Retrieved from https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/leadership-communication

Maister, D.H., Green, C.H. & Galford, R.M. (2 Feb 2021). The Trusted Advisor: 20th Anniversary Edition. Free Press

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