Top 10 Trust Killers

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development

It’s so difficult to build trust and so easy to tear it down.  Do you think about the various things others do that cause you to doubt?

I wrote a post yesterday that ran on Smartblog on Leadership entitled 11 Ways to Build Trust Within Your Team.  If you get a chance, check it out for a positive spin on building trust.

However, if you’re the type that likes to consider the negative side of an issue, here are some of the initial ideas I had for easy ways to kill trust.  See what you think.

Top 10 Trust Killers:

  1. Practice creative paranoia.  Remember, you’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you.
  2. Make commitments to get others to do something.  Choose what you do based on how you feel at any given moment.
  3. When someone suggests an idea, show them everything that’s wrong with it.  They’ll love you for speaking the truth.
  4. Point out the mistakes of others.  “Hey, they can’t get better if they don’t know where to improve!”
  5. Take credit for every good thing that happens on your team.
  6. Keep score on who drops the ball and remind frequently.
  7. When your leaders ask about a mistake that was made, make sure and let them know which team member made the mistake.
  8. Change your mind frequently with little reason or input.
  9. Speak in vague terms.  If they go off and make a mistake based on their misunderstanding, that’s they’re fault.
  10. Look out for Number 1. Let’s face it, no one is more important than you. You’re at the center of the universe. If you don’t look out for yourself, who will. So make sure you get yours. After that, you’re free to try to be fair to others.

OK, so now it’s your turn.  What would you add?  Take a shot below and come up with any that you think I’ve missed.

Photo from Dilbert by Scott Adams (c) 2011

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Lisa D.  |  20 Jul 2011  |  Reply

Wow. I’m sure this list will bring up concrete memories in most folks; minds!

Mike Henry  |  20 Jul 2011  |  Reply

It certainly did for me! When I was writing the post about the ways to build trust over at Smartblog, I couldn’t help but list the ways to tear it down. Thanks for checking it out!


Tristan Bishop  |  20 Jul 2011  |  Reply

This is just KILLER content. We must break the barriers. We MUST slay the siloes. In the name of all that is good and right and customer-centric!

Thanks Mike, you’ve strengthened my resolve, again, to do whatever it takes!

Mike Henry  |  20 Jul 2011  |  Reply

Thanks back Tristan. I appreciate how you continue to encourage the revolution. Mike…

Louise Sorensen  |  20 Jul 2011  |  Reply

1A) Don’t Listen to anything anyone says.
1B) Explode when anyone criticizes you, points out a mistake you made, or tries to have any input at all. Why this is good; spontaneous hissy fits discourage creativity, loyalty and team cohesiveness. Because who wants that, right?
1C) Be a Non-Stop Talker. No one else has anything interesting to say, anyway. Note:You will have to learn how to talk while breathing both in and out.
1D) Spread lies about your staff. This will keep them in a constant state of adrenaline anxiety and they are less apt to approach you with any questions. Downside: They probably wouldn’t spit on you if you were on fire. But what’s the likelihood of someone setting you on fire???
1E) Never keep a confidence. If someone confides in you, make sure the whole office knows about it. Especially if it will get you ahead.

Mike Henry  |  20 Jul 2011  |  Reply

Louise, thanks so much for the additional input. These are great additions. Much appreciated.


Adam L. Stanley  |  21 Jul 2011  |  Reply

Astounding how obvious these items seem yet how frequently people (myself included) forget themselves and demonstrate just these trust killing traits. I believe leadership, teamwork, and collaboration are all manifestations of RELATIONSHIP and trust is a primary building block of relationships. You simply cannot have relationship without trust. Thanks for sharing this blog.

Pledging again to work hard to build trust and avoid the traps that destroy trust.

In relationship,

@ALSWharton on twitter

Mike Henry  |  21 Jul 2011  |  Reply

Adam, thanks for the honest comment. When it comes to building trust and being trustworthy, we all go through cycles where we do well for a while and then we come up short because of timing, attitude, lack of sleep or a host of other reasons. The list of why and how to drop the ball seems endless. Being aware of when we drop the ball and working to make it right also builds trust, too. Thanks again. Mike…

Stephanie  |  21 Jul 2011  |  Reply

Great list. Another one is talking poorly about people when they are not present. When I hear people do this it always makes me wonder what they are saying about me when I’m not there!


Mike Henry  |  24 Jul 2011  |  Reply

This is a great addition Stephanie. Thanks for adding it. I agree with you that the easiest way for me to stop trusting someone is gossip. Unfortunately, gossip is also a weakness of mine that I must constantly struggle with so that may be why I left it off the list. Thanks for the reminder that people often see us as doing to them the very thing we’re doing. That’s why giving others the benefit of the doubt and appreciating them are on the list. Gossip definitely needs to be added. Thanks!

Michael Griffen  |  22 Jul 2011  |  Reply

Hello Mr. Henry,

I find it very difficult to trust someone who doesn’t listen after they ask a question. Perhaps, not surprisingly, I have run in to a few of these individuals over the years. If you are wanting me to trust you, slow down, listen, and stop trying to get your next comment out before I finish answering YOUR question…

Thanks for this post Mike.


Mike Henry  |  22 Jul 2011  |  Reply

Thanks for the great comment Mike. It’s so good, I included it even though you referred to me as Mr. Henry. You weren’t trying to remind me of the times I did this to you, were you? Mike…

Michael Griffen  |  22 Jul 2011  | 

I have learned and adopted a tremendous amount from you. I don’t think listening is a weakness in your playbook.


Mitch Mitchell  |  24 Jul 2011  |  Reply

To start with, a trust killer is having a captcha that’s hard for some people to read; a second trust killer is moderating comments, though I won’t know if you do that until I hit ‘submit’. Both of those probably covers #10.

Now, you’ll probably see what I did as #7, and you’d probably be correct. However, I think people underestimate #7 at times because it’s not correcting people in general but in how you decide to do it. For instance, what I’ve pointed out can be seen as a correction, but I’d explain myself further if that’s what this post was about; I don’t want to hijack the topic so I’m leaving it alone. But we do have this thing about constructive criticism and the principles of having crucial conversations as mentioned in the book of the same name.

Being more on topic, I tend to believe that true leaders, not temporary situational leaders or people put into leadership positions without the proper skills, have these 3 components: loyalty, honesty, and trustworthiness. I think these encompass indirectly some of your points above.

Mike Henry  |  24 Jul 2011  |  Reply

Thanks for the comment, Mitch. Thanks for persisting through the CAPTCHA and the moderation.

I don’t see what you did as #7, pointing out the mistakes of others. This post was written speaking to a supervisor relating to their team or direct reports. (Besides, the CAPTCHA and moderation aren’t a mistake; they’re both on purpose, although I admit that I don’t have the programming skills to use a friendlier CAPTCHA. Once someone comments or registers the behavior changes.)

My point about #7 is that there are some bosses or stakeholders who choose to comment about what can be improved almost to the exclusion of what was done well. The supervisors I’ve had that have done that have all done it claiming that it was a service to me almost as if they were serving me by being totally honest. Honesty doesn’t justify a critical spirit. Over time, I’ll share less with critical people and I trust them with less regardless of their reasoning. If someone wants me to trust them, they will be honest in a way that makes me feel I’ve been helped. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t already have a pretty good idea what they could be doing better. Most appreciate the opportunity to ask for the help rather than having it volunteered frequently. I heard someone onetime say that all unsolicited advice is received as criticism.

Beyond that, we agree that disloyalty, dishonesty and untrustworthiness are trust killers. Thanks again for the comment. I’m glad that you read and commented.

Mitch Mitchell  |  24 Jul 2011  | 

I thank you for your reply Mike. And with the full explanation, now #7 makes a lot of sense; who could disagree with that? And you’re right about your last line as well; most of the time unsolicited advice is seen as criticism, so I’m glad you accepted what I had to say in the manner in which I meant it.

If this is a Wordpress blog there are many other options to use rather than captcha that get the job done and encourage conversation; that’s why I brought it up. And then one can turn off moderation because you’re more confident in what’s going to show up on your blog. I’ll just mentioned Akismet & GASP anti-spybot in case you’re interested; those are the only two I need for all 4 of my blogs.

Pete Friedes  |  25 Jul 2011  |  Reply

I’m a little late with this response, but nothing makes an employee’s distrust-antenna go up faster than the manager using “I” all the time, when it really should be “we.” Whenever a manager says “My group” in front of his group, it shows he doesn’t view it as a team, he views it as something he owns and runs and will do what he wants, probably without input from “his people.”

Mike Henry  |  25 Jul 2011  |  Reply

Pete, great addition. When a manager talks in the first person (as I have had a terrible time doing in the past) he or she shows that they think they are the center of the effort and the team (their people) exist to serve them. Thanks for adding this. Mike…

Katie  |  12 Aug 2011  |  Reply


You think you were late with a response…here’s mine: Minimize contact with the team and make sure feedback is non-existent (that way they can’t accuse you of being negative).

I’m surprised this one hadn’t turned up yet. I find it to be a very common problem among leaders.

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