An essential element of good work relationships, trust takes time to develop but is easy to lose. We take a look at what not to do.
‘Gaining the trust of your managers, colleagues and clients is usually a long game – it grows through multiple promises being kept,’ says Andrew Graham, partner at Graham & Co Accountants.
But fail to deliver on those promises and you can lose it – as well as your good reputation and your credibility – in seconds.
Other bad habits can undermine people’s faith in you, too.
‘Two of the worst things that you can do is pretending to your manager or your colleagues that you know or understand something when you don’t, and pretending that you have completed some work when you actually haven’t,’ says Paula Travers, practitioner at Travers Accounting Services.
Accountant Adrian Markey thinks missed deadlines are the worst ‘sin’, especially when it comes to client work.
‘Some clients will be much more aggrieved at unanswered calls or emails than not coming through on results, as they expect the assurance that they can get the answers they want when they want them. It really depends on the person you’re dealing with.’
Not owning up when you’ve made a mistake or done something wrong – and being untruthful about it – is also guaranteed to destroy trust, with potentially serious consequences for your career.
‘As in politics, it usually isn’t the event itself which brings about someone’s downfall, it is the lies that follow it. Watergate was bad, but it was the cover-up that sealed Nixon’s fate,’ says Graham.
Here are some other behaviours that ruin trust:
‘All these behaviours create an ongoing feeling of mistrust,’ says Sharon Critchlow, ACCA Council member and director at business consultancy Newgrange Developments.
When others discover they can’t rely on you to behave professionally, this sets in motion a cascade of effects.
‘Your manager may feel the need to micro-manage you,’ says Travers. They will be checking up on you more often and won’t give you any work involving more responsibility.
Colleagues will avoid working with you, and clients may complain and go elsewhere.
‘Trust between clients and accountants builds by working together at the same pace,’ says Graham. Your clients also need to feel valued and respected, which is impossible if there’s no trust.
You can forget promotions and pay rises, and possibly face disciplinary action if you are a repeat ‘offender’. In the worst-case scenario, you can even lose your job.
Andrew Graham points out that integrity and consistency is everything in our profession.
‘This means always returning phone calls, meeting deadlines and being completely honest about any mistake or delay. People understand and appreciate frankness. In return, the “trust bank” builds.’
Remember that you are not expected to know it all, so there is no need to pretend that you do.
‘Your role is to learn and grow, and this means asking questions,’ says Travers. ‘There are no stupid questions! It takes a certain amount of courage to put your hand up and say “I don’t understand”, but you will invariably find that you are not the only one. There’s always a danger within a group that everyone behaves like a nodding dog, agreeing with and to everything. But you need to be prepared to challenge and question others so that you develop critical thinking skills.
‘This may ruffle a few feathers but, in time, you will come to be seen as someone who can be trusted to do their job well because of it.’
Clients will not bite your head off if you admit you don’t know something either. Rather, this will give them the confidence that you will refer them to someone who does know.
‘I make the analogy of a GP versus a consultant,’ says Travers. ‘If a client requires specialist advice, I hold my hands up and say I have a network of specialists who can best meet this client’s particular need. Your focus should be on how best to serve your clients rather than your ego.’
Accepting responsibility for your actions and their consequences also earns you the respect and trust of others.
Critchlow adds: ‘You are also responsible for your own education so blaming others for your mistakes or your lack of understanding is pointless and gains less credibility the closer you are to qualifying. It may be the case indeed that you haven’t been trained properly on something, but try not to labour on it. Instead, seek to fill your learning gap, don’t wait to be spoon-fed.’
Sometimes this happens simply because we’ve had a moment of bad judgment.
‘When trust is lost, it’s a bit like recovering from an injury – it’s possible to restore things to their previous health, but there will normally be a scar,’ says Markey.
Owning up is the first step.
Critchlow says: ’While there is no problem with stating when a particular situation has added to the issue, you are ultimately responsible and the sooner you show you can carry that responsibility, the quicker you can start rebuilding trust.’
Apologise and make up for what has happened.
‘Just remember that “actions speak louder than words” – you will need to demonstrate that you can be trusted again, words are simply not enough,’ says Travers.
Your actions need to prove that you are working hard to correct whatever mistake you’ve made, and that you are taking steps to make sure it won’t happen again.
Markey says: ‘Thereafter, it’s a case of doubling down on everything you do for the person or people in question. Give them that extra 10%, particularly in the area that hurt the relationship in the first place.’
Travers agrees this is the time to make a conscious effort to over-deliver.
‘In time, and if you maintain this good behaviour, trust will be rebuilt and the broken trust episode will come to be seen as a mere anomaly.’