The Trust Filter with Leadership Communication

Building and maintaining a culture of trust is simultaneously complex and simple — it is all about you and not about you. Learning this dance is a critical skill for successful leadership. As you go about your daily work, keeping your eye on the three of the components of trust — Reliability, Sincerity and Competence — is key! I have seen leaders do this with great mastery and success and I have seen others fail. One of the key factors lies with your intention and vision for how you are in relationship with others.


No matter how clear you try to be as a leader, people do not always perceive you or your message the way you intend. Respected leaders learn to manage perceptions.

The filters through which we commonly view others:


When you speak or act, perceivers ask themselves:

How much trust should I grant?
Is there a power differential here?
Is there a ego threat or self-esteem boost?
How authentic and vulnerable are they?

Studies have shown that employees ask themselves two questions when assessing their leaders:

  1. Do they have good intentions toward me (friend or foe)?
  2. Do they have what it takes to act on these intentions?


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The Trust Filter

When listening to you, one of the first things people do is determine whether or not to trust you. This decision is made almost entirely subconsciously.

Leaders can build trust in many ways:

Project Genuine Warmth and Competence
This is perhaps the most important component of gaining others’ trust. How well do you communicate sincere friendliness, compassion and empathy? Do you come project emotional intelligence? Do you appear competent, skillful and effective? According to Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy, perceptions of warmth and competence account for 90 percent of the variability in whether others perceive you positively or negatively.

Trust Them First
We are naturally inclined to reciprocate favors and extend trust to someone who has trusted us first.

Pay Attention
Leaders who make eye contact, smile, nod, recognize individuals by name and are fully present in the moment are those who excel at communication. While this may seem obvious, many executives and leaders appear hurried and oblivious to others.

Share Your Stories
When you share past experiences (especially your mistakes), you become vulnerable, thereby extending trust to listeners. This helps build high-quality relationships.

Walk Your Talk
People need to see you make good on your promises and carry out your stated intentions — actions speak louder than words. Overconfidence is a trap for leaders who must learn to project a realistic sense of themselves. Great leaders show modesty, yet remain confident in their words and deeds. They are predicatively reliable.


If there’s a gap between your intended message and how others hear it or experience you, you need to engage in some self-reflection. Examine your communication style and substance. Consider working with a trusted mentor or professional coach to provide feedback on how you come across to others.

What have your experiences been around building a culture of trust? I’d love to hear your experiences. Contact me or let’s connect on LinkedIn.


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