12 Ways You’re Eroding Trust and How to Stop

by Alli Polin on February 16, 2016


Every few months I sign up for a new MOOC. Not only does it help we with some self-study continuing education credits (CCEUs) to maintain my coaching certification, but  also feeds my deep-rooted need for continuous learning. Unfortunately, this time, I made a poor choice of courses.

You may be thinking, So what? Who cares? They’re free, Right?

Yes, while you can take just about any course for free, if you want the completion certification certificate (for CCEUs) you need to prove you took the course and passed. Also, many MOOCs these days are grouped into specializations and unless you pay, you can’t take the capstone where all the learning is put into motion.


This time, I paid a substantial amount of money for a five-course specialization from a major well-respected US university. After the first few lessons, I asked for a refund. Why?

  • Typos in almost every document
  • Mis-coded answers in the quiz (right answers, confirmed as correct by the system are marked as wrong and vice versa)
  • Poorly written with nearly impossible to follow questions on the quizzes
  • An unresponsive course team that didn’t respond to some people pleading for clarification on the first few assignments

Money refunded, I’m moving on but I’ll never take another online course through this particular university. I trusted that it would be polished, offer great content and if I applied myself have tons of learning. Unfortunately, it was nothing short of a sloppy mess.

On top of it all, they’ve lost my trust. 

I gave them money and trusted I was getting quality. I didn’t.

The course designers probably prioritized getting it out in the world over a QA check; I get it. They likely also assumed that content would trump format. Wrong. Both components needed to be strong to hold a smart learners attention and keep their trust that they made a good investment.

Think they have any clue that their sloppy approach lost my trust? I’m in their target audience, willing to pay, and incredibly engaged yet I’m waving bye-bye.

Got me thinking…

When do you and I unintentionally erode trust in different parts of our lives? What small actions and seemingly inconsequential decisions are taking the bonds of trust and throwing them out the door?

Trust is the cornerstone of all relationships. 

According to Google’s Dictionary: 




firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.

“relations have to be built on trust”

Would you willfully wave a flag that says “I’m unreliable, not true to my word and a big believer in telling lies?” I highly doubt it.

Bad news, you may be waving that flag and not even realize it. Assess yourself against the list below and find out.

12 Ways You’re Eroding Trust and Don’t Even Know It

3 Ways You’re Eroding Trust With Family

Putting off time together for work… and then putting it off again… and again

You tell your kids that you’ll build LEGO tomorrow, got to work tonight. Sadly, tomorrow comes and your child is thrilled it’s the big night. You wish you could, but you can’t.  Raincheck for tomorrow? Your child loves you and agrees.

TIP: Never doubt for a moment that they’re learning that your word is worth less than that always promised raincheck. The work will still be there in 30 minutes, make time for the people who love you now before they stop asking for good.

Using your smartphone in really dumb ways… i.e. it’s always on

“How was your day?” you ask your spouse. During their answer, you check your phone seven times and return two texts. Of course, they were important. Too bad you’re showing your spouse that they are far less important than everyone else. “Trust me, I love you, you matter,” you say.

TIP: Stop with the empty words and show them. Leave your phone in the other room. Listen, make eye contact with the person sitting across from you and not a screen for a change.

Important meetings at work always trump important meetings in your life

Can’t remember the last time you made it to your child’s sports game or school event? What about the long-planned date night with your spouse that you have to miss because you have another last minute business trip?

TIP: You decide how you take control of your schedule; your schedule does not run you. Block out time for life events, not only work events and make them sacred. Show up for the people in your whole life, not only at the office.

3 Ways You’re Eroding Trust With Friends

You promise to be there and you will… eventually

“Can’t wait for dinner with you! Seven is perfect!” (and you show up at 7:45)

Your friends talk amongst themselves, you know. When they want you there by 7:45, they tell you 7:00. They also offer to pick you up because the wait for you to show up can be excruciating.

TIP: Honor your commitments – that starts with showing up on time. Yes, you may need to cut something else short but you need to ultimately decide what matters most.

Personal emails can wait when you have a billion work emails, right?

You can hardly believe that the email you told yourself you’d respond to when you had the time is now six months overdue. They probably understand. I mean, who wants to email at night after doing it all day?

TIP: If you can’t send the long response you want to send, give yourself 48 hours to respond instead of putting it off for weeks that turn into months. Go with: I miss you. Thanks for the note. Super busy but want you to know I got this. Also, put a tickler on your calendar for two weeks out. If still no time for a long follow-up, continue to ping yourself until you get it done.

Every time they call, you’re magically unavailable

Caller ID is amazing, isn’t it? What did we do before you could knowingly avoid someone. (answer: picked up the phone). Bad news, people know when you’re ignoring them.

TIP: You’re supposed to be friends, act like it. If you never want to take their call, it’s time to re-evaluate your friendship. If you’re worried that they want something from you, it’s time for you to do some self-development and figure out how to turn avoidance into connection.

3 Ways You’re Eroding Trust With Your Colleagues and Team

Willing to throw people under the bus if it saves your a$$ 

If your go-to response is “I didn’t do it but so and so did,” you’ve got a prob and so does your team.

TIP: Leaders take responsibility and hold themselves accountable instead of looking for the nearest scapegoat. All you’re showing them is that they should trust that you’ll pin every failure and misstep on someone else.

Only reporting out at team meetings and never opening up the agenda for questions

When weak leaders don’t have the answers or are afraid to share, they shut themselves off from questions. People notice when the agenda is so tightly controlled people are shut down and any question raised is met with a scowl and a suggestion you take it off-line.

TIP: Strong leaders are unafraid to say “I don’t know but I’ll find out.” Strong leaders confidently admit when things are less-than-perfect. Be a strong leader.

Always using the word “I” when describing your team’s contribution in lieu of “we”

If you’re the only one representing your team’s work in senior leadership meetings, It’s easy to slip into I-mode. I had the team do this, I asked for that, I suggested, I created, I envisioned. You get the picture.

TIP: Even better than “we”, name the people who put in the time and effort by name. Let them get the credit they deserve.

3 Ways You’re Eroding Trust With Customers

Unresponsive on social channels where you bothered to set up an account. 

Your small business (or big one) set up a profile on Twitter, Facebook, you name it. You even hired someone to constantly fill your stream with relevant posts. The one thing you may have forgotten is engagement with real people, real time, is at the heart of social media.

TIP: When customers have problems or questions, they reach out to you. No more hanging on the telephone for hours to talk to a real human being. Show them that you  are real and you care about their needs by responding. Social media is not email, (see above) and people don’t want to wait days, weeks or longer for a response.

Delivering the minimum – late. 

Work plans are best estimates; people understand that there are real reasons for over-runs. It may be that your client asked for an increase in scope or that you discovered the complexity is far greater than anticipated. It may also be that you had other priorities and didn’t get to this particular client’s deliverable. The choice is to push yourself or ask for more time – yet again.

TIP: People love the phrase “under promise over deliver” for a reason. Never forget, everything you deliver builds both trust and confidence in you, your product, and business or erodes it.

Never responding to heartfelt comments on your blog. 

I’m guilty as charged. Last week I had ISP issues and literally couldn’t do it. (excuses, excuses) Still, it’s a great place to let people know that you see them, appreciate them and engage with their insights.

TIP: Do you best. Be present. Engage. If you can’t do it every time, forgive yourself. It’s okay and your readers understand that you’re human. If you never do it, now’s the best time to start.

Starting today, what is one change that you’re going to make to BUILD trust instead of  erode it?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Mertz February 16, 2016 at 7:17 am


Great points. We erode trust by missing some of the “small” things. However, when we miss the small things, we begin to miss the big things. Trust is too valuable to miss.

For me, I am trying to build trust by going deep into a community initiative. I want to be “all in” on a specific initiative and help move an initiative forward for positive impact.




Alli Polin February 16, 2016 at 7:24 am


Love that instead of splitting your attention, like you’re playing a game of Twister, you’re committed to all in. Trust grows with focused, caring attention. Look forward to hearing more about what you create.



Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™ February 16, 2016 at 8:38 am

Wonderful post Alli. Trust takes vigilance not just good intentions and commitment.

Of all your points, I think “putting off” may be the header category of them all. When we put off caring, put off quality, put off follow-through — trust suffers.

Thanks for delivering this powerful call to action – don’t put off, do it now!


Alli Polin February 16, 2016 at 6:17 pm


Good intentions are the equivalent of sitting on the couch while you think about the business you want to start (but never quite do). Trust is built through our actions.

Many thanks to you for your insight here!

~ Alli


Terri Klass February 16, 2016 at 10:57 am

Love the post, Alli! It is so easy to erode trust and so difficult to recoup.

I especially connect with your tip: Strong leaders are unafraid to say “I don’t know but I’ll find out.” When I am unsure of how to respond to a participant in my program, I admit I am unsure and then open it up to others in the program. Not only does that show my humanity, but it also helps build trust and connection with all the attendees.

Thanks Alli for an thought-provoking discussion and I can’t wait to share!



Alli Polin February 16, 2016 at 6:16 pm

I appreciate that as an expert trainer and facilitator you have the confidence and humility to say when you don’t have the answer. You prioritize finding out over looking smart in the moment. It’s simply leadership in motion and the right thing to do.

Thanks for sharing, Terri!

~ Alli


Gary Gruber February 16, 2016 at 11:40 am

Terrific post, thanks! Do you have the flip side of that coin and 12 things that build trust? It may be in your archives but I didn’t look. If you write that one, please let me know. Thanks, again.


Alli Polin February 16, 2016 at 6:00 pm

Thanks for your comment, Gary. I don’t have that one specifically although I’ve written on trust before. You have me thinking about a future post…


~ Alli


David February 16, 2016 at 5:53 pm

Using your smartphone in really dumb ways… i.e. it’s always on

Turn off the notifications. Most of the notices are not that important and you can avoid distractions from the things that matter.


Alli Polin February 16, 2016 at 5:59 pm

Absolutely!!! Great add, David!


Corina Ramos February 22, 2016 at 12:57 pm

Hi Alli,

It’s too bad you had a bad experience but that turned out to be a great topic to write about. 🙂

I agree that trust is the cornerstone of all relationships. I enjoyed reading the way you broke it down by family, friends, colleagues and customers.

I am horrible with email. Sometimes I don’t get to my inbox until late in the evening and by that time I’m too tired to read them. So the one thing I would change is make more time for my email and replying in a timely manner. After all, they did take the time to email me in the first place. 🙂

Thanks for sharing this Alli. Have a great week!



Alli Polin February 23, 2016 at 12:37 am

You’re horrible at email and I’m terrible with voicemail messages. Working to get better.

Yes, the course was stinky (despite the great content!) and was the perfect catalyst for reflection.

Thanks so much for your comment, Cori! Have a great week ahead!

~ Alli


Chery Gegelman February 23, 2016 at 5:48 am

I loved your opening story Alli, nodded my head through all of your post, and drew some mental exclamation points behind a couple of your points as reminders to myself about my opportunities for improvement.

Thank you for the great reminders!


Alli Polin February 23, 2016 at 6:22 am

Thanks, Chery. I think it’s many of the things that we don’t even realize we’re doing that oftentimes erodes trust. It’s time to notice and change.


~ Alli


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