Communicating Trust

In our busy professional lives, it’s easy to prioritize tasks over people without realizing how our focus on work makes other people feel. To fortify trust, we need to make others feel valued by treating them with dignity.


The things we say and don’t say transmit more meaning than we realize. When leaders fail to connect authentically and demonstrate positive intentions, customers and employees take notice. Actions and messages must strengthen people’s sense of dignity, meaning, and mattering.

In recent years, the science of human flourishing has generated a variety of pathways for leaders to fortify trust with stakeholders through communication. Inside organizations, the epidemic of workplace loneliness is a clarion call for systemic changes to the ways in which we connect with each other. Externally, with 81% of customers saying they must be able to trust brands to do what is right, a leader’s ability to transmit trust is more important than ever.


In addition to engendering trust, these workshops strengthen social and emotional objectives such as fostering psychological safety, inclusive cultures, and individual dignity.

Growth Mindset

Help people rise to their very best selves by communicating in a manner that banishes fear of failure and promotes a learning-from-experience belief system.

High Quality Connections

Want to develop an agile organization? Equip your teams with the practice of connecting authentically and meaningfully with each other to promote high levels of collaboration and vitality.

Active Constructive Responding

Science shows that the way we acknowledge each other’s achievements is one of the simplest—yet most essential—ways of building trust. Learn how to bring out the best in others by changing how you respond to their news.

Heliotropic Leadership

Want to become the best leader you can be and bring out the best in others? Heliotropic leadership starts with a personal commitment to see the best in yourself and in others. People gravitate to heliotropic leaders, because they radiate energy.

Communicating Trust in a Crisis

When people are worried, their willingness to extend trust is diminished. To fortify trust amidst uncertainty, leaders must prioritize the human aspects of a crisis event. Learn the basics of human-centered crisis response messaging.

Growth Mindset

Stanford researcher Carol Dweck coined the term growth mindset to describe a positive and productive way of responding to setbacks. The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset, which describes a person’s belief that their intelligence and talents are fixed.

People with a fixed mindset tend to avoid new challenges and instead stick to things they already know. Those who have a growth mindset, however, believe that failure and adversity create opportunities for growth, which is exciting and leads people to seek out new challenges so they can expand their knowledge and skills.

Organizational cultures that foster growth mindsets, encourage employees to express their most dynamic and creative selves. These cultures discourage overt competition, which research shows to undermine innovation and promote a fixed mindset. Research shows that overt internal competition undermines innovation and encourages people to adopt a fixed mindset.

Communicating to promote a growth mindset begins in the simplest of interactions between two people. Consider how a manager can respond to a direct report’s lack of progress on a project or the time spent collaboratively contributing to someone else’s project. At Microsoft, when CEO Sataya Nadella implemented a growth mindset culture, the organization’s stock price tripled and Microsoft became an employer of choice.

“It’s about every individual, every one of us having that attitude – that mindset – of being able to overcome any constraint, stand up to any challenge, making it possible for us to grow and thereby for the company to grow. “ Sataya Nadella

High Quality Connections

A high quality connection is a brief exchange between two people that makes each person feel valued and more alive. As a result of these brief, positive encounters in which both parties experience felt vitality and energy, each person’s self-worth is elevated, which promotes human flourishing and conquers the deleterious effects of workplace loneliness.

Because humans are wired for relationship, organizations provide ideal settings for people to benefit from the ways in which our social bonds promote human flourishing. Jane Dutton, the leading researcher on high quality connections, explains that positive relationships are an essential building block for thriving at work. In fact, people who work on teams that share high-quality connections experience high levels of psychological safety and trust.

The investment we make in fostering high quality connections pays dividends when we need someone’s collaborative support in a project or task. Making sure that other people believe they matter improves their well-being, it strengthens our own well-being, and it improves organizational collaboration.

Jane Dutton discovered the role of high quality connections in fostering dynamic and productive workplace environments while studying corporate strategy and innovation. Her research revealed that highly innovative organizations fostered positive and energizing connections between people, which led to dynamic and highly engaged cultures. She now believes that high quality connections help set the conditions for individual and organizational thriving.

Fortunately, high quality connections are not difficult to cultivate and their positive effects are felt immediately. Groups that practice high quality connections in a workshop report that they have a new skill they can incorporate into their everyday interactions.

Active Constructive Responding

In our relationships, we have the opportunity to make people feel valued, validated, and supported through the way we communicate with them. The things we say, and the things we fail to say, carry significant weight for how valued the other person feels. And it turns out that the way we respond to good news is more predictive of relationship quality than the way we argue.

In a nutshell, that means that our ability to respond positively and constructively to someone’s good news determines the quality of that relationship. Most of us have operated under the false belief that our ability to support someone when they’re down has the greatest impact on the quality of our relationship. However, the opposite is actually true. When people experience success, even for relatively minor achievements, they are looking for someone who will celebrate this experience with them. The science behind why this occurs is fascinating and is tied to the fact that people seek out relationships in order to grow.

What does this mean for workplace communications? When you’re busily focused on the tasks in front of you, the last thing on your mind might be giving your coworker a High 5. But the few minutes you spend celebrating with your coworker will strengthen your relationship powerfully.

Heliotropic Leadership and Communication

Heliotropism is the tendency within all living things to move in the direction of a source of energy. The heliotropic effect is best witnessed in the way that plants move in the direction of the sun throughout the day. According to researcher Kim Cameron at the University of Michigan, Heliotropic leadership reflects the ability a leader has to make others feel energized, psychologically safe, valued, and respected. When people are around a heliotropic leader, they are drawn to the leader’s positive source of energy and then transmit that same energy outward.

How do heliotropic leaders communicate to foster trust and inspire high levels of engagement and collaboration? Heliotropic leaders influence from the positive, assuming the best of intent, seeking to engage and inspire, and by practicing generosity and forgiveness. Additional skills in this workshop center on the practices outlined in the book Lift: The Fundamental State of Leadership by Ryan Quinn and Robert Quinn.

To communicate in a manner that fosters human flourishing begins with projecting kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and acceptance. These are skills leaders learn by practicing their ability to orient themselves toward the positive. Because humans’ survival once depended on their ability to evade predators by reacting quickly to fear, scientists find that negative emotions resonate more powerfully within us than positive feelings. These same negative emotions are actually more contagious than positive emotions. As a result, leaders who intentionally orient their behavior and messages to the positive are essential to building positive and productive work cultures.

Heliotropic leadership practices are the behaviors that enable positive and authentic attitudes at work.

Communicating Trust in a Crisis

Because people feel highly vulnerable during a crisis, these events provide a critical opportunity for brands to build trust. Furthermore, considering the types of crises that affect business and society today: natural disasters, terrorist attacks and financial crises, companies must adopt more transparent and trust-based crisis management strategies.

Modern crises are not events that are caused solely by negligence. And they are not events that only affect one company’s customers. These are social crises because they affect how people go about their lives. If businesses fail to restore confidence, these events can trigger massive changes in consumer behavior— which would be extremely expensive for businesses.

The days when companies could afford to focus inward during a crisis and wordsmith press releases are gone. Leaders must lead with empathy and prioritize the human aspects of a crisis event in their words and actions.

Customers and employees extend trust out of necessity. If given the option between trusting someone and having certainty about an outcome, most of us would choose the latter. That’s an important reminder for business leaders, because trust is fragile.

Read Kellie’s guide to Communicating Trust in a Crisis