Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

The Top 10 Trust Terminators


Trust is nearly synonymous with leadership. And it’s big business. We buy books (from the selection of more than 80,000 about trust on Amazon). We attend seminars. And we work diligently to cultivate it with employees, peers, supervisors, customers—heck, everyone we know. But field research suggests that real and lasting trust may depend less on what we do and more on what we don’t do.

What our parents told us growing up is true: Years of trustworthy behavior and trust-building efforts can unravel easily, sometimes with just one act. In fact, employees report that undermining trust is as simple as performing any of these top trust terminators.

1. Lie

Making untrue, inaccurate statements is only the tip of the iceberg. To employees, fibbing by omission (editing out or withholding something) is as bad as lying by commission (intentionally spreading false information.) As hard as it may sometimes be, candid straight talk is the foundation of trust, relationships and results.

2. Miss Commitments

The definition of trust is the “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” Failing to keep promises, meet deadlines, or otherwise deliver on agreements demonstrates a lack of respect, responsibility and accountability. All of which will quickly erode trust.

3. Say ‘Just trust Me’

These three little words speak volumes to employees. They say things like, “you’re not smart enough to understand,” “my time is too valuable to explain to you,” or “there’s something going on here that I don’t want you to know about.” It’s a powerful message that builds resentment and disengagement but not trust.

4. Speak Badly of Others

Gossiping, criticizing and berating people out of earshot is frequently confused with a strategy for bonding with others. It’s not! But it is a surefire technique for guaranteeing that everyone else will worry about what’s being said behind their backs.

5. Behave Inconsistently

Little undermines trust and confidence more than incongruence between words and actions. “A foolish consistency” may be the “hobgoblin of little minds” but it is also comforting to employees who are confused and unnerved when leaders fail to walk their talk.

6. Betray Confidences

Loose lips sink (relation)ships. A tasty little secret or juicy bit of personal information shared by a colleague can be a terrible temptation. But discretion and its powerful trust- and loyalty-building effects are even more delicious in the long run.

7. Jump to Conclusions and Judgments

Most managers, by their nature, have developed the ability to spot patterns and trends, and this skill frequently contributes to their success. But what one does with this information can either build or break trust. Placing blame, scapegoating, or criticizing never works as well as (or builds trust like) gathering all of the necessary information and sharing appropriate constructive feedback in private.

8. Refuse to Apologize

Leaders who believe that admitting they were wrong makes them weak are indeed wrong—at least about that. Customer-service professionals know that when a service failure is acknowledged and corrected, customer satisfaction and confidence are actually greater than if service had be delivered without a problem. This is not to suggest intentionally making mistakes, but when you do, the strength of character to apologize pays the dividend of elevated trust levels.

9. Make Decisions That Affect Others

Nothing says “I don’t trust you” like making a unilateral call. Including people in decisions that affect their work is respectful. And since trust is reciprocal, demonstrating the faith and belief in others will lay the foundation for them to do the same with you.

10. Shave Your Beard

According to the Journal of Marketing Communicationsmen with beards are more credible than those without.

Trust is the foundation of relationships and a key gear that keeps business running. So, if it’s true that trust is less about what you do and more about what you don’t do, then leaders everywhere will want to immediately terminate the behaviors that erode employee trust.

Julie Winkle Giulioni is a training consultant and co-author of Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want, with Bev Kaye. 

(Image via TATSIANAMA/

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.