Why Should Anyone Trust Me?

{ 👩‍💻 } Maybe they shouldn’t, but here’s my take on building trust at the office.

A designer at work. Photo by Josefa nDiaz.

When I started my present job, there were many good reasons why my new teammates could have built distrust in me. Coming from industrial design, I had zero experience in my new position as a service designer. I also came from designing truck interiors, straight to online dating.

Quickly, I ended up being the sole designer – other than marketing or print designers – in the company, relying only on myself to learn the job, having to cover also UX and even UI design at some point. For my teammates, having worked mostly with graphic designers, possibly leaning towards UI, they had literally no idea what I was doing. When they expected me to push pixels, I was doing a service blueprint. I remember asking questions about some backend logic, how the system works, to which I was answered: “You don’t need to worry about that, we’re handling this part.”

So while I was doing my job (and learning how to do my job), I also had to make my team and stakeholders understand what I do, educate them, help them realise how it is beneficial. But today, even if we don’t agree on everything, even if our vision sometimes differs, we trust each other.

That’s hard work but not rocket science, so here’s my take on trust.

How Important Is Trust?

Do you remember Nokia? The mobile phone manufacturer who crumbled soon after the iPhone happened?

I recently saw Camilla Tuominen speak about emotions, and explaining how fear made Nokia collapse: mid-level management was afraid to tell the bad news to the higher management. Consequently, they made the wrong decisions and planned inadequate strategies – and then what we all know happened. In other words, they didn’t trust each other. They weren’t able to communicate openly with each other. So, yes, I would say that trust is somewhat essential.

Transparency

Take a politician. Like, any politician in the whole world. Do you trust them? I’d wager you don’t. Why? Because they’re likely busy with some backstage plot, stealing public money, overtaking some other’s seat, saying things and doing the opposite, or just simply changing sides.

The keyword here is backstage. We don’t know what these guys are doing. They may not be doing anything. Something or nothing. The point is, it’s hidden. And in a general manner, what’s the best way not to gain trust from somebody? It’s to hide secrets away from them. Take your partner – or, better yet, your ex. Do you remember how your world fell apart when you came to know some dirty little secret – it doesn’t even have to be dirty? No surprise then, that it works the same at the workplace.

So if you want to be trusted at least by your coworkers, my two-words advice – for what it’s worth: be transparent. Give them access to your work. Don’t just show your results but also how you got there. In your research, show where your data comes from and how you came up with your conclusions. While you design, ask for feedback and reviews. Show you listen to what they have to say, and that you considered their feedback in your next iterations. Accept that they may know something you don’t. And when you have a good reason to believe your idea is better than their insight, explain your point.

How you communicate that differs according to many things: your respective cultures, your ways of working, etc. But in short, make sure they understand how B+A=BA and you’ll be in the right path.

Vulnerability

Did you ever feel like the more you learn, the less you know? Or, as Socrates said – unless it was Jon Snow:

The only thing I know is that I know nothing.

Socrates
I guess Socrates said it first then.

Let others see that you’re not some almighty God who sees it all and knows it all. They know you aren’t, anyway. If you appreciate the areas where you lack knowledge or skills, your humility will contribute to building trust: precisely because you’re not trying to pretend you can do more than you do.

However, there’s always that guy – or girl – who will react just the opposite way than what you expected. Been there, done that. My friendly advice here would be to get to know people before you reveal your vulnerability. Or do so little by little. I don’t have a bad guys radar, which is quite necessary when you need to share your vulnerability. But yes, my boss knows I have imposter syndrome, my teammates as well – and chances are, you do, too. I feel that in return, I get support and trust, and I wouldn’t want to change that for anything. And despite the impostor syndrome, you need to find that sweet spot where you know you don’t know, but you’re confident that you can learn whatever you need to succeed.

Trust

Once you have accepted that you don’t know it all, one thing is to start learning about it. Side note: if you don’t know and don’t try to learn, you’ll merely be the office drone, that’s not the sweetest spot to be. But then again, give your trust to your teammates.

Ask them to teach you, if they know what you need. Because if what you know is what they taught you, your co-workers will know just what you can do. So they can trust you with that, right? And they’ll also know you can learn.

Once I taught a pair of summer interns how to use a piece of software that was new for them. I had used it occasionally, and it would be at the core of one of their tasks. After some time they had discovered amazing functionalities. If I’d have to ask them to do something today, I’d give it to them with my eyes closed.

And trust them to do their part of the job. It’s ok to share responsibilities, that’s the whole point of teamwork.

Consistency

Trust also means you need to demonstrate that one can count on you. In short, deliver. That’s how you tell your teammates “I’ll be there for you.”

It also helps if you can deliver consistently so that your teammates can easily take the reins. If you’re a designer reading these lines, see your coworkers and stakeholders as the users of your handout and your documentation.
Of course, it’s also good to experiment. If you see that teammates or stakeholders are not reading, questioning, reacting to your handouts, maybe you need to optimise it. See the inception here? The point is pretty much to design your design process.

But consistency will provide stable landmarks to your coworkers, and experimentation will demonstrate your dedication and your willingness to improve and make your work visible.

Honesty

Yes, being honest is likely to win their trust – and this starts with being honest to yourself. Say what you think, and think what you say. Fight for your ideas, but admit it when you’re wrong. A change of mind is not a humiliation.

The truth may sometimes hurt, both yourself and others, but lies and unsaid things will always hurt more, eventually – remember the politicians? Or your ex? Not a risk I like to take.

Picture by Brian Wertheim.

However, different cultures are more or less open to negative feedback and blunt truth. There’s no point in painting a blunt truth if you’re going to get backlashed or ignored. That’s when you need to figure out your own communication strategies. What media to use? In what context? With what tone? Explicitly or implicitly?

Honesty is also visible. Recently I was freelancing on the side, and when invoicing, I heard back that “she’s honest with her hours, many designers aren’t”. I don’t know about that second part, but in any case, why would I report hours I didn’t work? What could I say I was doing? And based on what I had delivered, the manager was able to guesstimate that my reports were about right, that I wasn’t blowing it up to make more money. That’s just a small thing but good enough to earn trust, even from somebody I never met.

Do What I Say, Not What I Do

I’m not perfect, either. I have a lot to improve.

For every job I started, I kept my head down for some weeks, or even months. I didn’t want to be the troublemaker; I needed to integrate.

Good strategy? I’m not sure.

Another side note: the more I progress into the design profession, the more I think designers should precisely be troublemakers and push for change. After all, isn’t that the job description?

Anyway, I’m working on it, and I hope you will too.

PS: If your team is international, you can find loads of insights in Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map on how to build professional relationships with people from different cultures than your own.

Alice Baggio Avatar

Alice Baggio / Service Designer @ Aller Media

Alice is a designer with many lenses: currently a Service Designer at Aller Media and a CM for the UX community in Helsinki, UXHel. Formerly an Industrial Designer at Scania. Occasionally freelancing. And, just for fun, sometimes writing. Who knows what the future holds!

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