You Won’t Make Friends With Everyone at Work. Earn Their Trust Instead.

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“We started out as cube neighbors at the beginning of my corporate career,” says Joanne Collins of her former colleague at a life reinsurance firm. “Gabe would often overhear me talking to clients on the phone and helping new employees. Since he was a more introverted person, he really valued my relationship-building skills and the connections I made with other people.”

To Collins, who is now a Vice President with StoneRiver, Gabe became a trusted source of feedback. She continues: “He provided me with some very good career guidance early in my career. And he often came to me for input on work policies or staffing issues.”

This working relationship continued for many years, even as Collin’s former colleague rose through the ranks in a series of increasingly senior roles. “This foundation of trust was built on his seeing me in action when I didn’t know I was being watched,” says Collins. “Later, he became the best manager I’ve ever had. It grew into a mentoring relationship and ultimately, he became my first sponsor.” It shows you never know when the opportunity to build trust will appear and where it’s going to take you in your career.

“All relationships need trust,” says Collins. “Up, down, and sideways; internal and external; personal and professional. Everyone wants to feel heard and feel important.” But don’t confuse building trust with making friends. “Not everyone you work with will become your friend,” points out Collins. If they do, great. But that’s not the priority. “First and foremost, you want to develop trusting relationships that are built on honesty, integrity, and openness,” she explains.

Developing workplace relationships, when done in a mindful and meaningful way, is part of your job. It’s not something that schmoozy slackers do to avoid getting real work done. It is real work. And if you neglect to do it, you’ll only make more work for yourself.

Take every opportunity to build relationships and do it long before you think you’ll need them, or you’ll quickly train people to hide whenever they see you approaching. “Take the time to do this now,” says Collins. “And not just when you have a deadline or need something.”

Collins, whose job title is Vice President of Relationships Management at StoneRiver, is an ideal source for learning how to build trust at work. Here are her top suggestions:

1. Be candid and authentic. Always be open and honest about your motives.

2. Open yourself up to input. Listen and ask for feedback.

3. Put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand what’s motivating the other person. What do they need?

4. Give as much as you get. A relationship is built on the value of both parties. This can’t be a one-way street. It shouldn’t just be about you.

5. Don’t vent to others. Instead, communicate directly with the individual involved.

6. Steer clear of making assumptions. Seek clarification and understanding about someone’s motivation for their behavior.

“If you want to build trust with someone, come to the table with open intent,” says Collins. As Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

This article appeared in Forbes on March 4, 2018.

Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is founding editor of Learn more about her speaking engagements at and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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