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Developing Relationships and Trust

According to Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback, authors of “Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader”1 earning the trust of others is key to becoming a great boss. Trust, they say, is “the basis for all forms of influence other than coercion.” They suggest that trust, respect, reputation and credibility all refer to the same thing: the ability for people to believe they can count on you. Managers who are trustworthy are competent and dependable, and value both the work they do as well as the people they work with.

Similarly, a 1962 study suggests that trust flows from the ability to build authentic interpersonal relationships based on interpersonal communication skills. This “interpersonal competence” is defined along five dimensions by Argyris:2

  1. Giving and receiving non-evaluative descriptive feedback.
  2. Owning and helping others to own their values, attitudes, ideas and feelings.
  3. Openness to new values, attitudes and feelings as well as helping others to develop their degree of openness.
  4. Experimenting (and helping others to do the same) with new values, attitudes, ideas and feelings.
  5. Taking risks with new values, attitudes, ideas and feelings (Argyris, 1962, p. 26).

A third approach, by Catalyst,3 defines trust along two dimensions: reliance and disclosure. Reliance is whether or not people feel they can count on you to look out for their best interests. Disclosure refers to whether or not people feel they can confide in you sensitive or personal information. This suggests that trust is necessary for effective interpersonal communications. For example, an employee that does not trust his manager to be fair and empathetic will not come to that manager when a problem with work comes up. This undermines the manager’s role in the organization and reflects a missed opportunity for joint problem solving. Building trusting relationships between superiors and subordinates can be difficult because superiors have two, seemingly competing responsibilities: leading and evaluating performance. In this case, subordinates may fear being seen as 'asking dumb questions,' and 'not knowing what they are doing.' They also worry that if they seek help, they may look out of control and lose autonomy over their work. Overcoming these challenges is important for today's business manager.

Trusting relationships are also fundamental in Customer Relations Management and Supplier Relations Management. For example, a customer that does not trust the quality of your brand, or a supplier that does not trust you to make payments on time, will hurt your marketing strategy or erode your value chain. A lack of trust also lowers the number of referrals you and your organization may receive. Developing relationships and trust are fundamental for successful business managers.



1. Hill, L. and Lineback, K. (2011). Being the Boss: The Three Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston.
2. Argyris, C. (1962). Interpersonal Competence and Organizational Effectiveness.
3. Catalyst. Building Trust Between Managers and Diverse Direct Reports. June 20, 2011. Retrieved from:

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