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  • Sophie Clifford Eva Edel

A guide to building trust: start with 11 questions to ask each other

Updated: Nov 25, 2022

trust is core to any functioning working relationship. But how do you build it? one aspect is showing who you are and finding out about the other. but asking probing questions can feel uncomfortable, maybe even intrusive. so to make it easier, we say: 1. as a company have a protocol (like ambassadors do) 2. as a manager: go methodically through these 11 questions with your team member: ask them and answer them. make it a process. You won't regret it.

I recently heard that Ambassadors have a protocol to follow when they arrive in their new Embassy: they have to meet a number of people and tell them a number of things about themselves. Separately, we all know that managers are told to build meaningful relationships with their team members from the get go by making sure they get to know their team.

That got me thinking: what if we told leaders and managers (especially new ones) to follow a protocol, just like Ambassadors. The protocol is simple: have a sit down with individual team members and go through a batch of questions which both leader and team member must answer. These questions are there help them know each other in a meaningful way and in the process build trust.

Questions that go beyond "where did you work, what did you do, do you have kids, what are your hobbies" and beyond pure work related questions. Questions that reveal how you like to be treated at work and how you are likely to treat others. As I was thinking all this, the wonderful psychologist Esther Perel published a list of questions for co-founders who are exploring whether to work together, bundled around 5 key psychological dimensions. With a bit of rethinking, we tailored this list to suit a manager / team member relationship and we came up with 11 questions.

So here you go, 11 questions to help you know the other, reveal yourself and in so doing build trust. It may feel a bit uncomfortable for some, but pin that on the process, play along and I promise you should both come out of it with a deeper connection and understanding. We think it probably takes around 45 mn to 1h to have this conversation (basically the time a good 1:1 takes).

Question 1. When you’re faced with a problem, do you ask for help or are you more inclined to try to do everything on your own?
Question 2. What is the hardest thing you've ever had to ask for?
Question 3. Describe a time when you dealt with someone who was taking too much space or asking for too much attention.
Question 4. Tell me about the last time someone helped you. How did you feel?
Question 5. How do you deal with surprises?
Question 6. When is the last time you gave something or did something for someone without them asking for help?
Question 7. What do you do when you know you're in the wrong?
Question 8. Tell me about the last time you said "no" to someone (not a kid!).
Question 9: When is the last time you gave up on someone?
Question 10:What do you need more: security or adventure?
Question 11. What would you do if you had a different career?

For all these questions, make sure you tell stories if you can to illustrate what you mean.

Remember that you must both answer the questions. We would suggest each in turn for each question. Have fun with it. If you're uncomfortable, don't worry, that discomfort can also be part of the bonding. It is a chance to show yourself vulnerable which can really help build trust. The questions may not make sense to you but they are aimed at revealing something about how we ask, how we take, how we receive, how we give, how we refuse etc... All traits that will play themselves out in work. It will therefore help you understand each other, build trust and avoid many misunderstandings.

We have suggested these are conversations for managers and direct reports but actually this protocol and exercise would be just as effective for co-founders, an exec team, peers etc. You can also add to something like a Lumina Sparks team exercise.

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