Working Remotely? Use Your Conversations to Build Trust

By IPATracey, Thursday, 16th July 2020 | 0 comments
Filed under: 2020.

Imagine this. You and your team are working remotely, you see each other maybe a little through a computer screen, conversations are possible but they are different. You have been giving them space and latitude, role-modelling effective leadership practice in order to build more trust with and across the team; however, it feels like you’ve still a way to go. The trust is still not there. 

Did you know that your conversations give clues about how much trust you are giving and how trusted you feel? From a leadership perspective, if you are more aware of and attuned to those clues, then you’re better armed to build trust. And the online meetings provide a suitable platform for observing and reflecting on this, just as they are an ideal training and practice ground to perfect your ability to give and demonstrate trust.

Conversations, according to Judith Glaser, have the ability to move us from ‘power over’ to ‘power with’ others, or as Maya Angelou so aptly said:

‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ 

Words are a critical element in creating this feeling. And because words are so powerful, we must understand their impact and build a versatile but constructive portfolio. Glaser talked about building your Conversational Intelligence.

Conversations are two-way though. So, we need to both be clear about the impact of the words we use and learn to better interpret or understand the words of others, through more attentive listening. Deepening our listening abilities allows us to engage in more meaningful dialogue, based on respect and empathy, so that our conversations are more than a ping-pong of positional or competitive talking. This deeper engagement allows for better learning, accountability and decision-making.   

So how do I show trust?

Thankfully, it’s something we can learn and here we can draw inspiration from the coaching profession. What do coaches say or do that builds trust and allows for open, forward-focused conversations?

They focus on impact, not intention, in conversations.

Their skill lies in an interlinking mesh of insightful questioning, attentive listening and respect for the other person, by partnering with others in the conversation. They give trust. 

So how can you do what coaches do and apply it to your leadership practice? Five critical steps:

1. Create a trusting environment

It’s not just what you say, but how you say it and the environment in which you’re saying it that have an impact on how others feel. To build the collaborative process, stay focused on the other person and show your human, approachable side. By respecting others as a partner in the conversation and being more open and honest, you help others feel comfortable to share too. Uninterrupted, dedicated time focused on others is a rare gift, so allowing them time to articulate their own thoughts and work things out for themselves builds trust. 

2. Listen attentively. Be aware of how you listen

You’d be surprised by how poorly we tend to listen and we overestimate our ability to remember or really understand what others say. Paraphrasing back in your own words is a good test of understanding.

Jumping to conclusions or making assumptions is one of the biggest causes of breakdowns in conversations. If you notice an assumption creeping into your speech, ask yourself, on what are you basing it? If you can’t answer, reflect more and be honest – have you evidence, is it an opinion, bias or presumption? Now learn to ask questions of the speaker to explore their thinking more. 

3. Be curious and ask open questions  

Open questions involve others in the conversation and provide more information, which allows you to have a richer dialogue together and deepen your understanding of their situation. Closed questions and a telling style limit discussion, exploration and therefore discovery.

4. Think about words

The first step in expanding your repertoire of words is building awareness of the words you use.Observe the impact of your words on others. If they don’t land well, think immediately of alternatives. For example, in coaching we avoid the ‘Why?’ question, lest it sounds judgmental. As a good practice, change ‘Why did you do that?’ to alternatives such as ‘What prompted that course of action?’

5. Practise, practise, practise

Everything feels strange and uncomfortable the first time we do it. But the unfamiliar can become familiar with practice. Use the opportunity to build your reflective practice – a critical step in embedding new behaviour; asking what worked, didn’t work? What will you do better the next time?

The slower pace of virtual conversations allows time to observe how well you are practising these steps and to observe their impact. Use the slower pace to calm any natural urges to hunker into protective mode and block conversations. Work harder at making your words and intention land appropriately.

There is a clear business imperative to think about the quality of your conversations. Knowing how to have conversations that make people feel good helps to build positive work relationships, which enhances productivity and creative problem-solving, for example.

We need to give trust to gain trust. If you create the environment for trust, people will reciprocate with their trust in you. While we continue to adjust to new ways of working, we have an opportunity now to have better conversations, relationships and stronger trust, which are the foundations upon which we will work collectively to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

For further information on the above post, please contact Siobhán Bradley, Senior Leadership and Managment Specialist via