Trust is central to being able to work effectively, and achieve greater success.

As an Executive Secretary, trust is likely to be a cornerstone of your success. The degree of trust placed in you by your boss enables you to build an effective partnership. Often, this is a bond which lasts many years and through many different positions held by your boss. Senior executives often bring along their PAs to new positions. But, have you ever stopped to think about how this bond was established? Could your success here be replicated in other relationships and help you to become even more effective?

Here we will explore the topic and help to shine the light on the whole subject of trust so you can reflect on what you are doing well, and can build on your success. If you are new to your current position, don’t worry, just take a look and see how fast you can establish this bond of trust with your new boss.

Trust and Integrity

Trust is the degree to which you can predict someone or something. When it comes to people, what we are assessing is how well we can predict what they will do or, how they will react, to a given situation. Will they do what they say they will do? Will they keep our secrets? Will they tell us the truth?

A closely related concept is integrity. This is the extent to which someone behaves in accordance with their morals, ethics and values. Although there is a huge cultural overlay to this, basically it is internal and personal. Since values drive our behavioural decisions, integrity could be said to be how well we live according to our values.
In essence, the link between the trust and integrity is that the more strictly we adhere to a clear set of values, the more predictable (reliable) we become in the eyes of others. From my standpoint, there are three important observations:

1. Values are rarely expressed clearly, or even understood by the individual, let alone the observer. Although we can make cultural assumptions (yes, natural stereotyping in action), the vast range of influences that play on our values make it very difficult to judge whether someone is living true to their values.

2. Partly in consequence of the first point, and partly due to human nature, we tend to judge people based on our own values, not theirs. When we think someone lacks integrity, what we often mean is that their behaviour doesn’t match with our values. Tyrants are usually of extremely high integrity, enforcing their values on others — we just don’t happen to agree with their values.

3. People seem to regard trust as either a black or white matter, rather than the kaleidoscopic range of colour that it actually is. You may trust someone to keep your confidences, but you may not trust them if the information you have entrusted with them is dangerous to one of their friends. Yielding to the temptation to make sweeping generalisations can hinder the development of relationships.

Of course, these topics are much deeper than this, but here we are looking for practical things you can do to increase trust in your relationships. The implications of the above points are:

• The more clearly you understand your own values, the more clearly you can live by them and also express them to others.
• This enhanced awareness will make it easier to compare values with others and learn how their behaviour could be influenced by those values — put another way, this helps to build a more discerning eye to trustworthiness.
• Appreciating and accepting the diversity of beliefs and values can unlock relationships and help you to engage with people more effectively.
• Defining what you can and cannot trust others with will enable you to work with greater certainty and more safely.
• Reflecting trustability back on your own behaviour will give you opportunities to enhance trust in your relationships — it can make you more predictable.

Trust in Relationships

An obvious but important aspect is that trust requires two people. If you want to learn how to create and build trust with others quickly, it helps to know the process.

When we meet someone for the first time, we arrive with a whole bunch of preconceptions about the other person which we use as a base to determine the degree of trust to place in them. Stereotypes, previous relationships, and of course, gossip, all conspire to provide the foundation for the relationship. Yes, it can be wrong, misguided, unfair, or right on the money but, all of these things are influencing how we start a relationship.

Next comes direct observation. Before they speak, we are picking up visual clues about the other person. Forming instant impressions and linking these back into our reservoir of experiences to calibrate how we will deal with the individual in front of us. Sadly, if they happen to look just like someone who in the past let us down badly, we will have to work hard to overcome our automatic caution and hesitation.

And don’t forget, they will be thinking all of these things about us too! Can they trust us?

For a healthy relationship of trust to develop, the level of trust needs to grow steadily, and evenly. By that I mean that at the beginning, we will naturally be a little cautious about what we share. However, we will give it a go and see what happens. We will be looking to see how well they respect our confidences and what they do in return. If they then start to open up too, great, this is starting to feel good and we might be inclined to share a little more. As the relationship develops, with trust being rewarded with more trust on both sides, a strong bond will emerge. Yes, it takes a little time, and that is appropriate.

If the level of trust given by one party is markedly different, problems will arise at some stage. For instance, have you ever met someone who within just a few minutes is telling you their whole life story, all their woes and problems? Most people would respond to this with caution and be very reluctant to trust them in return. Maybe they just can’t keep their mouth shut! And, what about someone who reveals nothing whatsoever?

So, in a new relationship it is important to notice the clues of trust and work to develop it gradually and evenly on both sides. It doesn’t have to take long, but it does need to be progressive

How to Build More Trust

During workshops I usually ask the question: ‘What can you do to build more trust in your relationships?’ Many people struggle beyond ideas like telling the truth, doing what you say you’re going to do and avoid gossiping. Here are some less obvious ideas for you:

1. Say Thank You. Openly recognising the level of trust in a relationship and thanking the other person for playing their part in building a great relationship can only help (provided you are sincere).
2. Demonstrate your trust. If you signal your trust in others, they are far more likely to reciprocate.
3. Manage expectations. If you say you’re going to do something, and then find you cannot deliver — talk to them, don’t leave them guessing.
4. Defend secrets. If someone tries to get the secrets out of you, don’t just dodge it, say ‘no’ and why.
5. Be frank, with sensitivity. Don’t fudge the feedback. If you think something negative about another say it as it is, but with care and consideration.
6. Tackle breaches. If someone lets you down, don’t just pass it off, tackle it head-on with sensitivity.
7. Respect reservations. There is a time and a place for every disclosure, and unless they are personally ready, it is unwise to force it.
The bottom line is that if you want more trust in your relationships, you need to invest time and effort. By increasing your knowledge and focus, you will be able to move trust forward much more quickly, for the good of all!”

Colin Gautrey is author of Advocates & Enemies: How to Build Practical Strategies to Influence Your Stakeholders. Follow him on his Influence Blog at

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