Good to Know

4 Phrases That Make It Hard For Others to Trust You (And 4 That Don’t)

If you want to gain more trust, it’s important to watch your words.

Originally Published: 
Smiling businessman having meeting with client

Do you want to be trusted? It’s a simple question with a no-brainer answer. Of course you do because when you have the trust of your coworkers only good things follow. You end up well-regarded, and people speak highly of you. But the bigger reason is that it just makes everything easier.

When you’re trusted at work, no one has to wonder or ask around. Teammates will gladly listen to you and work with you without any hesitation. Customers, too. That falls into the win-win category.

“When we trust each other, we get more efficiency,” says Kent Grayson, associate professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Trust takes time to build. But gaining it isn’t that complicated. Do a good job. Keep your word. Treat others well. It’s all about consistent actions, and well-delivered words.

To that point, the right words and phrases matter when it comes to being seen as trustworthy. But it’s not always the obvious ones. Usually, it’s the subtle, even off-handed comments, which we think reflect confidence but in actuality serve to undercut our standing. The key is to not say those bad things and start saying the positive stuff. It starts by knowing which ones are which.

4 Phrases That Make You Seem Untrustworthy

1. “I wouldn’t do anything differently.”

When you have success, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it, but you still want to reflect. The above says that you have no interest in that and lets everyone else know that you have no interest in learning from them. People then have no motivation to share, and when you get cut off from information, you lose.

This isn’t about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, but it is about being humble enough to realize that every situation holds a lesson, because, “How many times in life have you nailed a perfect 10?,” says Art Markman, vice provost and professor of psychology at University of Texas and author of Bring Your Brain to Work.

2. “That guy totally screwed me.”

Say it once and it carries weight, but regular invective like this and “That guy is so horrible” or “That department hates me” makes people wonder what you’ve done to cause such feelings.

You can certainly offer criticism, some unhappiness, some post-mortem on any situation. The key word being some. But if you set up a you-against-everyone-else dynamic, people will fear two things. One, eventually they’ll have to take sides and not everything requires choosing teams. But also, “It’s only a matter of time when they’re complaining about you,” Markman says.

3. “Make sure you use spellcheck this time. Right? Right?”

You don’t mean it. It’s just a joke and some good-natured office ribbing, but guess what? Your colleague knows they messed up. We all do and want to move on, but your comment says, “Not so fast.” You’re gonna pick that scab and revel in someone else’s misfortune. That doesn’t make anyone feel good or give anyone the reason to trust you with anything close to sensitive.

“If someone is constantly ragging you about one mistake, what that says is that you will always be your worst self and who wants to live with that?” Markman says. “We need to give people some grace.”

4. “I’m being reasonable.”

Subtext: You’re not. You might as well say, “Don’t be stupid.” (Don’t say that.) You come off like you have all the answers and the other person couldn’t possibly figure it out. With the above line, especially in a negotiation, they’ll naturally worry that if something is good for you, it must be bad for them and that makes people feel trapped, the antithesis of building trust.

“Whenever you limit people’s freedom, they push back,” says Holly Schroth, senior lecturer at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

The better thing to say is, “Do you feel I’m being reasonable?” Schroth calls this “procedural justice.” You’re inviting the person into the conversation, giving them a chance to control the pace, and making them feel consulted/valued/respected.

4 Phrases That Do Make You Seem Trustworthy

1. “Can I ask you a question? I’m just trying to figure out if you’re interested in this or that?”

By labeling your behavior and clarifying your action before taking it, there’s a better chance of an honest answer. It’s, in essence, giving someone a heads-up. If you start taking notes in a meeting without warning, people will fear the worst. But a quick, “Mind if I jot some stuff down?” removes the mystery and danger, Schroth says.

And that approach also applies to saying, “I don’t want to deliver this information, but … ” or cueing someone in on the meeting’s agenda. It shows consideration by giving them a chance to prepare for what’s about to come.

“Good or bad, it’s reducing surprises,” she says.

2. “That’s not my expertise. You should talk to …”

Here, you’re showing generosity and true confidence by handing control off to someone else. Your words also resonate more, since everyone knows that you don’t talk unless you have something to say, Markman says.

3. “I’m sorry.”

Yes, that’s right, an apology. Repairing a situation is big for maintaining or regaining trust, but it requires a few pieces. It’s not about acknowledging what you think you did wrong, but what the other person feels was wrong. Otherwise, it’s just another, “Sorry if you were offended” non-apology. You then have to take responsibility for not coming through and offer restitution by splitting the bonus or staying late one night to do more of the team’s work. In some form, you need to pay. “Put yourself in the penalty box,” Grayson says.

4. “It seems like you want to …”

Listening is a fundamental element in building trust with coworkers since you find common ground, learn what’s meaningful to someone else, and build rapport, which you both can draw on in the future.

The key is to ensure that what you heard is correct. What you don’t want to say is, “I hear what you’re saying...” because no one believes it and it comes off like you just want to move on. You also want to avoid using “I” statements, since that just makes it about yourself. But when you repeat back parts of what the person has told you like the above, you’re making it clear that you’re in the time to understand. And when people feel appreciated, you gain influence. Plus, it sets an overall better standard.

“No one hates a listener,” Schroth says.

This article was originally published on