Academic Brené Brown’s research found that trust isn’t earned through sweeping, grand gestures. Trust is built in very small moments.
🙄 If you’ve ever avoided someone’s eyes or ignored a phone call from someone you know, you made a small decision. That small decision was to not compromise your focus, time, priorities or status. And it was a tiny, momentary betrayal.
But if you do make what’s important to you vulnerable, other people will learn that they can do the same with you.
Brown says that when someone displays their trustworthiness, they earn a “marble” in your marble jar for them.
Consider moments where someone earned your trust. They put something tiny at risk. And your mind banked that as evidence you could trust them.
✅ a friend or neighbor stopped what they were doing to check-in (even though they could lose their time or be pulled into a bigger obligation)
✅ someone helped you even though they weren’t an expert themselves (they put their energy and how everyone views their competence at risk)
✅ a colleague met your partner for the second time, months after their first meeting, greeted them warmly and asked about a small detail they remembered (being earnest put their social status at risk — they could lose face if they aren’t remembered or if their warmth is rejected)
Here are six ways to earn marbles and build trust in tiny moments.
1️⃣ Use humor as your pressure valve
Show your personality and even be silly or self-deprecating where appropriate. Use a funny emoji in an email or add slang to show your short questions aren’t confrontational.
There’s a big difference between “why?” and “😵 omg why?”
2️⃣ Try out ostentatious listening (it’s like next-level body language)
Journalist and author Charles Duhigg spent time with Google when they were exploring the link between psychological safety and performance. He says ostentatious listening is key in building trust. This is sending out very clear signals that you are listening, even if they seem cliché or cartoonish.
Communicate positively with exaggerated hand gestures, pumped-up celebratory reactions or putting your pen down and leaning towards the camera in a state of fascination on video calls.
⚠️ Some cultures interpret nodding differently. Some age groups wouldn’t be able to stand a thumbs up! Be mindful to choose gestures that will resonate with your whole team.
3️⃣ Make a show of your self-trust
Reveal that you are sometimes uncertain.
Keep it casual and share in a meeting or a message in your team channel when you are drawing on self-trust.
For example, “I am feeling a little nervous about making my deadline today, but I’m reminding myself that I’ve done it before so I just need to throw myself at it! Wish me luck.”
4️⃣ Share credit using tagging and sharing features
When you are praised, give a shout out to, tag or cc in the people that deserve a piece if you can. If not, copy and paste the praise to a comms channel where everyone can see.
5️⃣ Remember the little things
Put birthdays in your calendar, ask about (by name!) pets, children and partners, even if that means collecting notes. Share a link or ask a question about someone’s hobby or interest, even if you know nothing about it yourself.
6️⃣ Show up for the big, bad or awkward things
Check-in, pick up the phone or send a message when someone has had bad news or a loss. Don’t put it off, don’t pretend to have the solutions — just say you’re there to go through how it feels with them.
🗝️ Your key takeaway
Put yourself on the line for your team in teeny-tiny ways. It costs you very little in the moment but can build lasting trust.
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