5 ways leaders can build trust through communication

In the second of three blogs by our associate leadership consultant, Kay Galpin, she examines the 5 most important ways individuals can communicate in order to gain the trust of others .


What can leaders do to build trust in themselves, in teams and in organisations as a whole? Here are five key areas of activity.

1. Build relationships

Kernes (2003) suggested that authentic leaders seek openness and truthfulness in relationships with followers which builds trust. Research has found that trustworthy behaviour such as benevolence, integrity and competence will lead to trust. Be clear on what you are communicating and make it transparent. Show an interest in, and compassion for others.

2. Share information and knowledge as openly as possible

Leaders are organisational translators, they can clarify and communicate the values,  vision and company tactics to a meaningful level for employees . Doing this frequently and in a timely manner has been found to build a culture of trust (Cufaude, 1999; Cherry, 2000; Zak, 2017).

Talk is the work of leaders

Peter Gronn

3. Be positive

In field experiments leadership communication scenarios that were more transparent and more positive increased trust in the leader. These communications echoed the four elements of psychological capital: hope, optimism, resilience and efficacy (self-belief). Words written and spoken by leaders increased these feelings in team followers and also led to more creative and effective team outcomes (Norman, Avolio and Luthans, 2010; Avey, Avolio and Luthans, 2011)

4. Seek and give feedback

Some of the behaviours involved in forming a safe and trusting working relationship can facilitate learning. Being supportive and non defensive can build confidence in employees and can demonstrate that a mistake does not equal rejection. By both seeking and giving feedback, leaders can also admit to, and learn from their own vulnerabilities (Edmondson, 1999; Zak, 2017).

5. Tell stories

Finnish managers were interviewed to understand how they used stories to lead others and two aspects were particularly related to trust. One was to demonstrate trustworthiness through showing support, care and empathy and the other was to create trust through the process of open interaction. Stories can also be a way of understanding and sharing emotions and function as a more indirect way of building trust (Auvinen, Aaltio and Blumqvist, 2013).


Kay worked as an HR business partner for 20 years in the charity and private sectors before completing a masters degree in occupational psychology last year. She is currently exploring how telling and disrupting team and individual stories can impact on team factors such as engagement, trust, emotion and identity to support organisational change. She is working as a freelance writer, researcher and consultant.


Auvinen, T., Aaltio, I., & Blomqvist, K. (2013). Constructing leadership by storytelling–the meaning of trust and narratives. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 34(6), 496-514.

Avey, J. B., Avolio, B. J., & Luthans, F. (2011). Experimentally analyzing the impact of leader positivity on follower positivity and performance. The Leadership Quarterly, 22(2), 282-294.

Cherry, B. W. (2000). The antecedents of trust in a manager: The subordinate tells the story of time.

Cufaude, J. (1999). Creating Organizational Trust: Defining, establishing, and maintaining something as elusive and fragile as trust is as difficult as it is essential. Association Management-Washington-, 51, 26-36.

Edmondson, A. (1999) Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44 (1999): 350-383.

Kernis, M.H. (2003) Towards a conceptualisation of optimal self – esteem, Psychological Enquiry, 14,  1-26.

Norman, S. M., Avolio, B. J., & Luthans, F. (2010). The impact of positivity and transparency on trust in leaders and their perceived effectiveness. The Leadership Quarterly, 21(3), 350-364.

Zak, P.L. (2017) The Neuroscience of Trust Harvard Business Review Jan – Feb 2017.