It’s A Matter Of Trust: 12 Steps To Turn Skeptics Into Believers

“We live in a cynical world. A cynical world.” – Jerry Maguire

There are lot of skeptics out there, especially in the workplace,  and who can blame them?

Over the course of a working life,  how many times have we been let down by our leaders – for promises not kept, changes that are never made, money that is never spent, or raises that never come ?

Enough times to keep our guards way up, and our trust level way down, when a new leader enters the room.

I’ve been in that situation a few times in my career, where we had acquired existing operations that were, for the most part, been ignored or marginalized by their previous corporate bosses.

That first meeting with staff was always a difficult one, because there was a wall up, and a palpable attitude of “OK, you’re the new sheriff in town, but we’ve been burned too many times.  We’re wary.  We’re skeptical”

“Why should we trust YOU?”

For our investment to be successful, we needed to break down that wall, and build a bridge.

We needed believers-  in the cause of becoming a great business, with happy customers, and……happy employees.

Fortunately, we were able to turn these skeptics into believers, by taking these 12 steps to trust building:

1 ) Acknowledging that the turnaround wasn’t going to happen overnight – we couldn’t walk into the room thinking we could convert everyone simply by saying we’d be different, or by making attractive promises. Knowing we had to earn it was the right first step.

2 ) Showing empathy about the past trust issues – or, “you can’t ignore what happened before” (even though it wasn’t on your watch).

3 ) Recognizing the value of the work that they performed, and its importance to the cause – NOBODY in a business organization should ever be “on the margins”.

4 ) Asking for “open minds” and patience – We could only make a real conversion by our future actions; rather than asking for trust straight out, it was better to ask for the chance to earn it.

5 ) Admitting the change isn’t going to be easy – and it might even get worse before it gets better – Building a great team involves high levels of accountability, and dedication to higher standards. Typically, skeptical groups haven’t been used to that kind of attention.  My favorite saying in these situations was – “the good news is, we’re going to be paying closer attention to you, and the bad news is, we’re going to be paying closer attention to you”.

6 ) Showing up more often – Nothing helps skepticism and cynicism thrive like leaders staying in their ivory towers.

7 ) When we do show up, we don’t make speeches – we engage in conversation (including listening) –  We’d conduct morning “round tables” over coffee and donuts, and sit WITH our teammates at those tables.   That coffee and donuts were one of the best long term investments we ever made.

8 ) Admit that we will make some mistakes along the way, but own up to them – Nobody, or no organization, is perfect.  We’re going to mess up.  But we’re going to be honest about it.

9 ) Put the “why” into any important change we make – Putting context on policy changes, process improvements, higher standards, or any other major employee affecting action is critical to bridge building.  We took the time to answer the “why” question, and it paid off.

10 ) Keep the promises (by being prudent with them)  –   It’s easy to make promises, especially when we need a quick morale boost.    We just need to make ones that we can keep. I know, it sounds so logical, so….easy.   But in the heat of business battles, it’s not.   Promises are not like candy- use them wisely.  And when you put one out there, do everything you can to keep it.

11 ) Walk the walk, THEN ask for trust – It was only after keeping at the first 10 steps that we’d finally take the next step of asking for trust.  Saying those words, “trust me”, is a huge thing, and with a good track record, we stand a much better chance of getting it.

12 ) After the dust clears, and the hard work pays off -tie it all together by speaking to the “new believers”, and then reach for greatness–  There is a moment when we know it’s “there”; you can feel it in the room. Acknowledge it. Talk about it. Tie it all together. With grace and passion.  Then, reach even higher with a team of believers  – to greatness.

Lead well!





  1. says

    Hi Terry – once again thanks for a great post! Trust is such a huge issue that needs to be addressed in so many different workplaces these days as without it change, engagement, service excellence and performance are virtually impossible to achieve.

    I found your 12 points to be absolutely bang on point and am hopeful that leaders – individually and as teams – will grasp onto them and get moving on the right direction.

    Cheers, Ken.

  2. says

    Hi Ken, thanks for your kind comment. You are so right – trust is the absolutely, positively essential first step to any kind of sustained success. Period.
    Thanks again, and all the best!

  3. says

    Hi Terry,

    The main problem in this day and age is the old “axiom” that the manager knows more than his employees has now been completely invalidated. There are many employees who know more than their managers, and that’s why the manager needs to be a servant leader in order to win their hearts and minds (we have published a good post on servant leadership here ) .

    By the way, I think that doing all the above steps in one shot can do more harm than good – as it will make the manager look inconsistent.

  4. says

    Hi, and thanks for your comment – I agree about servant leadership, and you are right in that you can’t try to do all these steps at once. These are steps, steps that should be taken over a period of time. Trust is never gained overnight. And, we can’t be accepted as a servant leader without building that trust – I’ve seen too many eye rolls when a new leader stepped into a room and said “I’m here to serve you”.

    Thanks again, and all the best.

  5. says

    Hi Terry,

    Oh what a challenge to start from the beginning and build trust! I’ve been in those situations many times and I just wish I could offer a magic handshake so the person would know I was honest and trustworthy so we could get right to business. Unfortunately it takes time, so when you do get it you should protect it with everything you’ve got.

    Have a great weekend.

  6. says

    Hi Scott, you’re right, there isn’t a magic handshake. Trust has to be earned the hard way, but when it is, our efforts really pay off.
    Hope you are having a great weekend too!
    Thanks, as always, for stopping by.

  7. Joey Price says

    Hi Terry,

    As a young CEO/Consultant, I can appreciate this post. It’s very important to transfer a spirit of trust early on and follow it up with transparency and action.

    Will be tuning in for more posts!

    Joey Price,

  8. says

    Hi Terry,

    Great article! These are inspiring points. I love the emphasis on leading by example, and also being transparent – explaining reasoning behind changes and standards. I always respond better to change when I understand why it is happening, and as you point out – others usually do as well. By the way, I’ve also downloaded your “bosses vs leaders” poster and find it extremely valuable – so thanks for that.

  9. says

    Hi Griffin, thanks so much for your comment and kind words. Yes, explaining the “why” is essential to great leadership. And glad you like the poster!
    All the best,

  10. Lindsay Roberts says

    Coming from a “skeptic” – I think this is kind of misleading. This post isn’t talking about skepticism, it’s talking about employees whose trust have been broken. There is a difference.

    A skeptic is just one who asks questions. They are trying to find facts to back up decisions so that they feel comfortable that it was the right one. It has nothing to do with the leadership, rather than taking a pragmatic / logical / analytical / scientific approach to problem solving.

    That being said, skeptics face their own set of issues, because leadership often times feel like they’re rejecting ideas, when they’re simply asking “tell me more.”

    But other than that, thank you for posting.


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