Cultivating Trust at Work Will Make You More Productive

All unfulfilling or stressful work environments typically lack the same thing: a sense of trust amongst employees.

The average American worker spends 2,288 hours per year at their place of work. This means practically 50% of our waking life is spent with coworkers! Yet research shows only 40% of employees feel well informed about their company’s goals, strategies and tactics. Bottom line: over half the country’s workforce is struggling daily with feelings of doubt and uncertainty related to their job. Feelings that lead to distractedness, turnover, and frustration in the place they spend the overwhelming majority of their life. It doesn’t have to be this way!

According to neuroscience researcher Paul Zak, the singular secret to building a productive workplace and increasing employee retention rates isn’t by offering free kombucha on tap - it’s trust.  Or more specifically, oxytocin, which Zak dubs the ‘trust molecule’.

Put simply, oxytocin is a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It’s released by the hypothalamus, a small region at the base of your brain.  Extensive research shows that oxytocin can decrease stress and anxiety levels when released into certain parts of the brain while increasing feelings of empathy, connectedness,!

Tell Your Story to Promote Trust

From a communication perspective, one of the most effective ways to engender trust in another person, especially when you don’t know them particularly well, is to frame what you have to say within the construct of a story.  Painting a mental picture for your audience is a highly effective way to induce the release of oxytocin.  Zak’s neuro-research also focuses on why this is so.

“As social creatures who regularly affiliate with strangers, stories are an effective way to transmit important information and values from one individual or community to the next. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain…”

If your team is struggling and you attribute it to a lack of trust, follow my three Ts to up the oxytocin contingent between you and your colleagues.

#1. Try

This may seem obvious, yet asking telling the truth takes courage.  Analyzing why your boss doesn’t understand you’re ready to take the lead on your team’s Q4 revenue goals in your head during your daily commute doesn’t count.  The brave thing is admitting to yourself the only way things will improve is if you share how you’re feeling and ask.

#2. Tell the Truth

Since asking for what you need is hard (see point above) it’s very important to avoid using qualifiers and fillers that will dilute and undercut your message.  Our brain - often subconsciously -uses verbal crutches when we’re feeling insecure about what we need to communicate. You’ll do yourself a great disservice if you finally muster the courage to ask your supervisor for a meeting and then are ambiguous about how much you’re struggling. Remember - make it a story.

“It’s just that sometimes, um, I feel like maybe I could be doing more.  I kind of, like, want to reach the next level in my role.”


“When I began this position I was challenged and excited to come to work everyday.  Since the new team structure went into effect in February I now feel stuck and siloed.  I asked for this meeting because I want to shift my responsibilities and regain the sense I’m a valuable member of this organization.”

#3 . Train

Establish exactly what you will say in advance.  Depending on your learning and communication style, it write down or record yourself as you brainstorm out loud.

Once you’ve landed on what you want to say, ask yourself a final time whether you’re really telling the full truth about how you’re feeling.  If the answer is ‘yes’, it’s time to practice. OUT LOUD. You’ll understandably be nervous when the time actually comes to communicate how you’re feeling.  And these other sensations may distract you. This is where your partner, best friend, or a communication coach comes in. Even practicing with yourself in the mirror is better than practicing only in your head.

Audre Lorde.jpg