How Conversational Intelligence Can Help You Build Trust in Your Team

In my blog last month, I introduced you to the topic of Conversational Intelligence.

The magic of Conversational Intelligence is knowing how our brains react when we communicate with others. Conversations are not just a sharing of information. They are part of a far more complex experience! That experience includes our body’s chemical reaction to feelings that arise during a conversation. This happens way before we even have time to make logical sense of them.

Good quality conversations enhance relationships and environments. In the workplace, these environments support innovation, cooperation, collaboration and trust. When a conversation feels awkward our instinctive fear networks are activated. This results in defensiveness, disconnect and distrust.

Why is Trust integral in a Team?

A distrusting and uncommunicative team culture is often the breaking point of most businesses; you begin to see long term staff resigning without a valid reason, while the quality of work produced dramatically reduces and individuals stop caring about customer satisfaction.

Broken Trust: People are designed to be meaning making machines!

Take a workplace example where you are implementing change in your workplace. You may have decided to move people around to different tasks. You may be doing so that they are cross trained and to eliminate key person dependencies. How do you communicate that change so that they are aware of your motivators? Without high quality conversations and communication your team will make their own meaning for the changes. They may feel like they have been taken off their favourite or most comfortable tasks. They may feel demoted, or shifted sideways. They may feel they have been given more responsibility without suitable remuneration. These factors all erode trust in your team.

Making meaning is a primitive brain response that happens in a matter of seconds. It is not based on rational or logical thinking. It is an instinctive human reaction to jump to conclusions about the meaning behind a situation.

Neuroscientific research has shown that conversations have the capacity to actually alter the brains neural networks. This occurs in our own brain and in that of others. You can actually up-regulate feel good hormones and down-regulate hormones relating to fear, all within a single conversation!

Judith E. Glaser, the pioneer of conversational intelligence (C-IQ), identified five Conversational Essentials. You can read more about these here. These, if mastered teaches you how to impact others in positive and helpful ways. Imagine being able to use the power of CIQ to use conversations for good!

Over the next few blogs, I will be sharing these Conversational Essentials with you, so you can have some practical strategies to experiment with. In this article we are focusing on the concept of “Priming for Trust”

Before diving into the first of the Conversational Essentials, Priming for Trust, we need a little context.

Being Open to Influence

A word of warning to start with relating to self-awareness. Can you see that your own opinions and perspectives are just one possible way of interpreting the world? Can you embrace an attitude of being “open to not knowing?”

In order to utilise conversational essentials, you need to have an attitude of “authentic curiosity” particularly related to how others see the world. This is very much the concept of having an open mind or the ability to have your mind changed.

By taking this mindset, you connect with people without judgement. You listen deeply to what others are saying. You also hold your own agenda way in the back of your mind for future reference. Only to be referred to after you have fully understood what the other person is sharing.

Conversational Essential #1 Priming For Trust

Trust is the foundational piece to all good relationships

Without trust in your workplace, you would not feel comfortable to share your ideas, try new things and take calculated risks. You would not be able to speak your truth, be vulnerable or learn new things. It would be difficult to share your career goals and dreams. All of these things are often the start of great things to come. Most importantly, you would not be able to feel that sense of safety and connection that we all strive for every day of our lives.

Our decision to trust or distrust someone happens in an instant. It can determine the trajectory of a relationship for a lifetime. Our brains are designed to make snap judgements in deciphering friend from foe.

What is Trust?

“When I trust, I believe that we share common values and that you care about my best interests and will not harm me. I feel that I can be open and honest with you and that you will always be reliable and deliver on your promise.”


“On the flip side, when I feel distrusting, I believe your agenda is about serving your own needs, not mine. I am focused on how differently we see the world and how we value different things. I am afraid to be open about what I feel, because I am certain you will use this information against me.”

When we trust, our brains produce increased levels of oxytocin. This gives us a connected feeling that we experience when we are having a good time with someone that we care about and who cares about us. In the workplace, oxytocin also facilitates our ability to work with others. It fosters committed partnerships where teams bring out the magic of collective brainstorming and creativity.

So how do you build Trust? What exactly is required?

Let’s just take a moment to consider what you think is needed for you to feel trust. What behaviours do you need others to demonstrate to feel you can trust? What qualities do you try to communicate to others to show that you can be trusted?

Judith Glaser has identified the following five T.R.U.S.T behaviours that must be present in your interactions with others. These are the behaviours that determine if you are to trust and be trusted. This is not rocket science. I believe that people generally do know intuitively what needs to be evident for trust to exist; so consider this a reminder!

The behaviours you should role model to build Trust in your team

  1. Transparency

Are you open to discussing with your team why you do what you do? Do you let people know what is behind your actions and your words?

When colleagues, peers and direct reports are kept in the dark about why or where things are going, their fear networks are activated and they do not feel trust. By sharing your intentions and reasons behind your actions, they are more likely to feel safe and open to trust.

Take our earlier example of the team task change implementation. If you had been upfront with your team about your motivation and reasons for making the changes, you would have removed the instinctive fearful response to uncertainty.

  1. Embodying caring, courage and candour

Share your own thoughts and feelings with courage and candour. Ask about your team’s thoughts and feelings. This encourages open, honest conversations. Check in regularly about what is working well and what is not. Acknowledge how valuable these kinds of conversations can be in building trusting relationships.

  1. Relationship before task

In business, relationships are as important as the tasks we are aiming to accomplish. Having said that, it is vital that you focus significant effort on building a great relationship before demanding results. Relationship before task is the mantra here!

Getting a clear, shared understanding of your employee’s needs and aspirations is another key element to the building of strong relationships. It is this bond that creates the foundation for success. It also enables difficult conversations, establishing shared aspirations and powerful innovations.

Explore and agree on the way you want to work together. Consider what you will do when things are not working and how you will celebrate your wins.

  1. Understanding

If you have ever experienced the feeling of being truly heard and understood, you will appreciate how connecting it can be. When you feel that someone “gets you”, you will notice their willingness to trust expand.

By putting your own agenda aside, asking lots of “curious” questions and listening more, you create the space for greater understanding.

In addition to this, if you routinely ask for feedback and listen to it with an open mind, (even if you don’t agree) imagine what that could do for building trust!

  1. Shared success

Explore and agree on the scope of the work and clearly define what success looks like to both of you.

  1. Truth-telling

What does one do when there is a gap between your truth and theirs? Do you face reality with openness and summon the courage to speak your truth? Do you ask for theirs in return? How would doing this impact the trust?

I recommend starting with empathy and seeking to understand their perspective. From this place of greater understanding you can work towards building a bridge by creating a shared and meaningful goal.

I invite you to reflect on how you fare at elevating trust in your team.

In what ways do you create a physically, emotionally and mentally safe environment for trust to thrive in your team?

Are you having trouble building trust within your team? I can help

Through my experience as a Workplace Culture Coach and Trainer, I work with business owners and managers to develop better workplace practices and create an environment that individuals are once again proud to be a part of. Ask me about my tailored programs here.

Hi there! I’m Jacqui Snider and I’m here to help you and your business grow and flourish.

As an Occupational Therapist and Workplace Culture Coach and Trainer, I am passionate about helping individuals and organisations develop better home and workplace practices that everyone enjoys being part of. With more than 35 years of coaching experience, I have personally coached and trained in excess of 350 leaders, bringing about transformational change in both individuals and teams.

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