Mel Savage Executive Coaching
The Highly Valued Leader Podcast - Establishing Trusted Relationships

Episode 76 – How To Work With People You Don’t Trust 2.0

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Episode 76 - How To Work With People You Don’t Trust 2.0

I want to give you a way to trust everyone you work with, and be able to use that trust to your advantage to get the job done more effectively, and also build more useful relationships with people by…

  • redefining what trusted relationships at work actually mean to you
  • giving you a four-step process that you can use that allows you to ‘trust’ anyone and use that trust to get the job done effectively 

I got to say, I wish someone had told me this strategy years ago. I wish I did not have to figure this one out the hard way. For some of you, this is going to be like instinct, you just get it.

When you’re ready to become a top-performing leader, book a leadership strategy session to see if executive coaching is right for you. You’ll learn to simplify your leadership style while amplifying your value inside my 1-1 coaching program.

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Read the Transcript

Welcome to The Highly Valued Leader podcast where I make it simple for leaders at all levels to amplify their value. My name is Mel Savage and I went from working in the mailroom at a small ad agency to making multiple six figures in senior management at McDonald’s, to running my own multiple six-figure executive coaching business. I’ve had huge successes in my career and epic failures. All of it taught me the world-class leadership, mind and skill sets that I simplify for my clients and share with you on this podcast. I’ll help you reset your leadership style, demystify the politics, and help you become the highly valued leader everyone wants on their team. Get ready for the most honest, direct and revolutionary leadership coaching you’ve ever heard. Let’s simplify leadership together.

Hey there, leaders. Today we’re talking about trust and trusting people you work with. So hands up if you work with someone that you think you cannot trust. And I’m going to assume that everyone has their hands raised because I think a better question is, who doesn’t work with someone they don’t trust? Personally, when I was in corporate, I’d never really fully trusted anyone. And while that wasn’t always a good look, I’ll be honest, it was also prudent in many cases. There was even one person who I let my guard down and trusted. And you know what? That person let me down. All right, I won’t even get into it. 

So I, like you have had a lot of situations where you’re like, I just can’t trust anyone. That being said, how can you build trusted relationships with people that you don’t even trust? I did an episode on this four episodes ago. If you look at it, it’s episode number 70. But I actually recorded that episode almost two years ago. In that episode, I talked a lot about the idea that trust is something that you create with your mind. Trust is an emotion and our emotions are generated by our thinking. So it was really about when someone does something like say lies and doesn’t tell the truth. You can actually feel mistrustful or resent them or be frustrated by them, based on how you think about it. 

Now, I still believe that’s true. I still believe that in a lot of cases, you can manage your mind around situations and make a lot of situations not a big deal. But I don’t think that’s the whole solution. If I’m honest, like if there’s someone who’s constantly throwing you under the bus, or talking about you behind your back, or not delivering work that they say they’re going to deliver, it’s really hard just to manage your mind around it. You have to do something about it as well. But managing your mind before you do something about it is still really important. Because if you do things from a very frustrated, angry place, it’s not going to serve you. 

So today, I don’t just want to talk about managing your mind, I also want to give you some tangible ways of using your amazing mindset to actually deal with the situation to your advantage. My goal today is really to help you learn to trust everyone you work with. Yes, I said it. I want you to trust everyone you work with. And what we’re going to do, though, is talk about what trust actually needs to mean for you to be able to leverage all the relationships that you have to not just your advantage, but to get the work done to get the results that the team you and your team need to get. 

We’re going to start by really defining what trusted relationships at work are actually deemed to mean to you. And then I’m going to give you a four-step process that you can use that actually allows you to ‘trust’ anyone, and then use that trust to get the job done effectively. And I have to say, this is stuff that I wish someone had told me earlier on in my career. There’s so much I wish someone was telling me early on in my career, which is why I do what I do. I want to give you everything that I know, from my boots-on-the-ground experience. And when you hear some of the strategies, you’re going to be like, ‘Holy sh*t. Why didn’t I think of that? This is so obvious. Why did I get caught up in needing to trust people?’ 

I think the common definition of trust. We’re going to redefine trust first. And you’re going to quickly see how you can use this to your advantage. But first, I want to start by saying, it makes total sense that you want to trust everybody that you work with. If you are someone who wants to trust everyone you work with, that makes sense because it would make life easier. It would be really nice if you didn’t have to watch your back; if you could believe people are just going to do what they say they’re going to do; that you could tell people stuff, and it wouldn’t bite you in the butt later and they would keep their confidence and they wouldn’t tell anyone. All that stuff.

That would make life easier if you could just trust what people say. But I don’t think that’s actually possible. I don’t know if that’s possible in real life. And I’m certainly sure that that’s not possible in an office environment because an office environment is set up to a large degree to be a competitive place. It’s like this mini Hunger Games or something. Like, it’s this place that people go to make money to survive in their life. And so if you boil it right down, your survival is at stake, which is a basic human need. 

So many times I’ll talk to my clients and we’ll talk about what they’re really afraid of based on what they’re dealing with or some leadership behavior that they’re trying to develop. And they’re sort of holding themselves back from developing it because they’re afraid of failure. When it comes to failure, if you peel it right back, the issue is I’m afraid of failing because my survival is at stake… I’m afraid of losing my sense of security, having no money, and being homeless comes up. I know it makes no sense. 

But you know what I’m saying because you thought it. There is a natural human survival instinct that has been around for tens of thousands of years from the hunter-gatherer time period. And we’re not going to undo that survival instinct with just a little bit of coaching. We need to be aware of it. When it comes up, we’re going to be aware of how to deal with it, but it’s going to be coming up and in a work environment, especially a corporate environment, it gets challenged a lot.

The other major human need that is often challenged in a corporate environment is your sense of belonging because people need to feel like they belong. Because again, back in the hunter-gatherer days, if you didn’t belong, you were kicked out of your tribe. You are alone, and guess what? You are likely to die. You couldn’t survive on your own. So the brain, the human brain is wired to believe that lack of belonging. It literally equals death. 

I know that having a bad meeting does not equal death, logically or failing at something that you’re doing, or even having your boss come down on you and give you negative feedback does not mean you’re going to be homeless, but our brain goes there. Our brain thinks it’s true. Your lower brain, your lizard brain, is very reactive that way. So the corporate environment is basically set up to put you on your guard for your brain to think, ‘I need to maybe not trust everyone around here. I need to be on alert.’ 

If you look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the idea of belonging and survival are both there, near the bottom of the pyramid. Then, add to that the various levels of emotional intelligence people have, bad days that come your way, inexperienced bosses that you need to work for, overwhelmed with tons of work coming your way, fear of failure or insecurity, or whatever ends up happening when someone is letting you down or whatever. 

People end up acting in ways at work that they probably wouldn’t act in their personal lives. Work makes us crazy sometimes. It makes us act out of character, sometimes, in ways that we would not want ourselves to act. And I think you know that’s true about yourself sometimes. And knowing that, I think allows us to have a little bit of compassion and understanding around the way that other people can act sometimes. 

That being said, we still want to have a sense of trust because trust makes us feel safe in those environments. We feel like, ‘I don’t have to worry about my survival or belonging because I trust these people. Wouldn’t it be nice if I didn’t have to be on alert all the time?’ So then the question becomes, ‘Does that mean I can never trust anyone ever?’ I think if you’re waiting for people to always do what they say they’re going to do and always have your back and all of that kind of stuff; if that’s how you define trust, then I think you’re going to be waiting. 

Not because people are jerks, but because people end up acting out in weird ways in environments that threaten their survival and belonging. But here’s what I want to offer you, you can certainly trust people to have some reaction to the environment that they work in. You can trust them to not always be their ideal version of themselves, given the pressure that we’re all under in those environments. I think there are things that you can trust about people. 

But when you define trust, as always being in their integrity and acting like the perfect human being all the time and adhering to the way that you want them to be trustworthy, I think you’re going to have a hard time with it. But if you say, what can I trust about these people? Well, you know what? You can trust that sometimes they’re not going to show up for you, and you can trust that they’re going to react to pressure. I think that’s really key to today’s topic for me. 

Because right now, when we talk about having trusted relationships, we make that mean that people need to act in a trustworthy way. And if they do that, then we can trust them. And if we invest time in building up relationships with people, they’re never going to stab us in the back. They’re never going to betray us. They’re never going to throw us under the bus in the middle of a meeting. But to be honest, I just don’t think that’s the case. 

Like I said, it’s not because people are jerks. They just don’t know how to manage the fear that comes up in these environments. What if we just redefine trust? What a trusted relationship means. Having a trusted relationship with someone is not really about them behaving in a trustworthy way. What if it wasn’t that? What if having a trusted relationship with someone is really not about them behaving in a trustworthy way? What if having a trusted relationship with someone is about you trusting who they are and how they’re behaving, not how you wish they would behave, or who you wish they would be? 

What if it’s just you trusting who they are and how they actually behave? What I mean by that is, if you’re working with someone, say up here, and you always get everything sorted out with them. Before you walk into a meeting room, you guys are aligned on stuff, or whatever people are going to say in the room, and then you walk into the meeting room, and they either don’t speak up, or they don’t support you, or they don’t play their part, whatever part that you agreed they were going to play. Or maybe even they change their mind in the middle of the meeting and they do this consistently, let’s say. Or they have a bit of a pattern doing this. 

Then I would say, you can trust that person to be someone who has trouble supporting you in a group environment. Notice I didn’t say, you can trust that person to stab you in the back; you can trust that person to let you down. I didn’t say it that way. I also didn’t say you can’t trust that person. What I said was you can trust them to be someone who has trouble supporting you in a group environment. The reason that I framed it that way is because that’s what’s actually happening. 

They’re not liars and jerks, they’re just having trouble. They’re nervous and scared supporting you in a group environment. When you are empathetic and compassionate, and try to understand this person is great one-on-one, is great in a small group, is great with someone maybe at the peer level, but the minute they walk into a room of senior management, they have trouble. If you can understand that, there are advantages to understanding that. 

The advantage is when you trust someone to act the way they often act, then you can define your own strategy to account for this. When you know that someone has trouble consistently supporting you in a group environment of say, senior management, then you can redefine your own strategy to account for this. I’m not saying avoid the person. I’m not saying exclude the person. I’m saying, how can you use that knowledge, trust that knowledge, and use it to your advantage to get the result you’re looking for? 

So number one, stop expecting this person to speak up in meetings. Stop putting them in that situation. You can actually sit and talk to them about it. And he probably could find another way to use this person in a way that they feel safer. Without even talking to them, you can say, ‘If I bring them into the room, they’re not going to say anything. How can I use this person in a way where they feel safe to support me? It’s not going to be in a group environment, but how could I what could I ask them to do?’ You just need to reframe the question you’re asking yourself. You need to reframe your strategy based on what you trust about this person. And you know that you can trust them to not speak up and to get a little nervous in a group environment of their seniors. 

I think knowing that, just accepting people for who they are is something that will help you divine strategies that will get you further and create an environment for results to happen. I always say this, but Dale Carnegie 101. That book, How to Win Friends and Influence People is worth the read. And even if you’ve read it a long time ago, read it again. Dale Carnegie 101. Understand your audience. Understand the motivations of your audience. Why is this person afraid? Just ask yourself that. Why are they afraid? What would make them more comfortable? 

When you understand what they’re afraid of, you don’t have to talk them out of it. You don’t have to say to them, ‘Oh, don’t be afraid it’s fine. No one’s going to care, blah, blah…’ You don’t have to talk them out of it because you can’t control whether they’re going to still show up. One day, maybe when you’re out for beers, you can talk about it and you say, ‘I noticed this. What’s going on with you? How can I help you?’ But in the meantime, if you’re not willing to do all of that work, don’t talk them out of it. 

The better strategy is to understand what motivates them or demotivates them, and then create a solution that makes it easy for them to do the thing that you need them to do. In this case, support a recommendation. So if what would make them feel safe is to support you behind the scenes, then create an environment where they can support you behind the scenes. If what motivates them is being able to have flexibility on where they stand on this recommendation depending on which way the wind blows, then create a solution that allows them to do that. 

Now, you might be saying, ‘This sounds like a lot of friggin work. Why do I have to go to these lengths to do this stuff? It is not the easiest, most direct-line solution. I will give you that. But there really is no direct-line solution sometimes with people, because what I’m suggesting to you is really just understanding your audience and defining your strategy upfront to make it easy for your audience to do the thing that you want them to do. That is actually way easier. I would say that’s more of a direct line than trying to get trying to trust these people who have a pattern of not being trustworthy and then going into a room and not getting the support you need and then having to circle back and talk to everyone, blah, blah, blah. That’s a lot more work. 

Instead of needing to do things the way you wish they could be done, why don’t just trust the person to be the kind of person they always are, in certain situations? Have compassion for that and then just figure out how to do things so that it makes it easy for them to do it. You can trust who they are. That is what trusted relationships are, to me, in a corporate environment. It’s trusting people for who they are and then using that information, leveraging that information. I say ‘using’ but it sounds so gross. I don’t mean it like using them and manipulating them. No, you’re accepting them for who they are. 

You’re actually having compassion for them for having trouble adapting to this insane environment called corporate. And you’re not trying to change them, you’re having compassion for them, and you’re leveraging who they are already to help you get the results that you need to get for your team. Your job as a leader, as always, is to create the environment for success to happen. In this case, creating the environment means leveraging people for who they are not what you wish they would be. And you don’t have to be disappointed in that. You can just be like, this is what it is. Even you are not someone who’s 100% trustworthy all the time. We wish we were but we’re not always. 

When you take the time to understand what motivates people and help them find really simple, easy ways to achieve results and get on board, let’s say so that they’re not risking their survival or belonging in this case, you actually become trusted by them. So not only do you trust them for who they are, have compassion for it, and leverage it as it is versus how you wish it would be. When you do that, they start to trust you, which is amazing. That to me, is what a trusted relationship is in a corporate environment. 

Basically, I want to give you four steps. I’ve already covered them but I’m just going to lay them out here so that they’re succinctly lined up. Four steps to go through in these situations when you want to create a trusted relationship with someone. The first thing is, to let people be who they are, not who you need them to be. This is the first step. 

None of this is going to work if you keep clinging to the idea that people need to be who you need them to be. They need to operate the way they need to operate. And you need to redefine what trust means to you in work relationships. It’s not about them operating in the way that you think trust should be operating. It’s about you trusting them to be who they are and accepting them as they are. 

If you have a boss who’s someone who never feeds you the information that you need to know, if you have a report who makes up a lot of reasons why their work isn’t done, or if you have a client who is a king or queen of covering their butt, none of that has to be a problem. The more you make it a problem, the more you waste time and energy being upset or disappointed in things that you can’t change instead of just trusting the people for who they are and finding ways to make it work. If you’re willing to redefine trusted relationships and let people be who they are, you’re in good shape. That’s step one. Let people be who they are. 

Second, define what you know about them. Get really clear, watch their pattern behavior, ask them questions, and understand what motivates them. If you have a report who’s always making excuses why stuff can’t get done, it’s because they’re afraid of something. That’s why they’re making excuses. Maybe they’re afraid of what you’re going to say, maybe they’re afraid of letting you down, maybe they’re afraid of thinking they’re failing. You can understand that maybe they’re overwhelmed with what it is that they’re doing and they don’t want to just look dumb so they’re afraid to ask for help. Maybe you have helped them, but they’re still making excuses because they still don’t get it and they’re afraid that you think they’re stupid.  

When you sit down and really define what you know about them and what might be underneath why they’re doing what they’re doing, you can actually use that information to either help them, like in the case of your report, feel comfortable and change their behavior or just understand it so that when they make excuses, you can just say things like, ‘It’s okay. Let’s forget about it. What help can I give you?’ Versus trying to say, ‘I’m always here to help you. Don’t worry, don’t be afraid.’ Maybe they’re just going to be afraid. You don’t have to change the fact that they’re afraid but you can understand it and say, ‘What help do you need? I’m here to help you. I won’t judge you. Let’s go.’ You can say things. You can decide what you’re going to say based on what you understand about them. 

Always look for the patterns and trust those patterns. In fact, that is step three. Step one is to let people be who they are. Step two, define what you know about them and the patterns that they have. And then step three is just trust that. Trust those patterns and don’t make it a problem. Don’t make it a trust problem. If you have an employee who makes a lot of excuses, that doesn’t have to be a problem. Your information-hoarding boss doesn’t need to be a problem. Your cover-your-butt client doesn’t need to be a problem.

When you focus your mind on working with the situation versus working against it, your brain is going to come up with all sorts of creative strategies, which is step number four. Define your strategy. What is your strategy to work with a client who’s afraid of failing, which is why they’re always covering their butt? If you just ask yourself that question for a second, ‘I’ve got this cover-my-butt client, how do I want to work with them? What is the best way to work with them?’ 

Challenge your creative brain to think of something. And what comes to mind for me immediately is how you can always make them look good. That’s what people are afraid of. They don’t want to look dumb so why not focus on helping your client look good? Because they’re going to trust you as someone who helps support them. 

This may not be the exact solution to your problem but it’s a good solution to some people’s problems. And that’s just off the top of my head. When you understand why your client is covering their butt all the time and you trust the fact that they’re going to keep doing it, then you can figure out how you can support them so that they feel safe, and then they’re going to trust you. Trust them for who they are and they’re going to trust you. Support them and who they’re being, and they’re going to trust you. 

Same with the information-hoarding boss. What’s the real problem here? I don’t know what it is, but you could find out. Maybe they just have too many things going on in their head and they can’t remember everything. Maybe they’re intimidated by you and they think that if they give you all the information, then you’re going to outshine them and take advantage of that. Maybe they don’t trust you because maybe you made them look bad in meetings. Maybe they don’t understand what they’re being told and so they don’t realize that they need to give you this information.

Find out what the problem is and take the threat away. Make them feel safe. And if they’re still out doing it, find another way. Use your creative brain. I think the important thing here is that you’re redefining trust. You’re trusting them for who they are, not who you want them to be. You’re creating a safe environment for them to be who they are. And you’re working with that, not against it. That’s going to make them trust you. That’s how you build trusted relationships in a corporate environment. 

The more you do that with the more people that you do that, you’re going to be able to get what you need from anyone in any organization. And that is very valuable. That is a marketable thing. That’s what creates great noise about you behind your back. Oh, yeah, I love working with them. And people start to notice. There’s that Mel. She could work with this person and this person, this person, this person. Nobody can work with that person, but she’s figured it out. You want to be that person. 

You want to be the person who can work with anyone because that’s value. That gets you on the best task forces. That gets you on the big projects. That gets you on the messy situations that are big career-changing projects. All it takes is for you to be compassionate and empathetic and not judgmental. Just be like ‘Okay, these people, this person is never going to support me in a meeting because they’re afraid. That’s okay. What can I do with that information?’ 

That’s what I have for you this week, leaders. Talk to you next week. Bye for now.

Hey, if you want to simplify leadership while amplifying your value, then you need to get your hands on my free training. Head over to for instant access to the training and get a taste of how I help my clients lead with ease and make more money in the process. I’ll see you there.



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I have 20+ years working as a leader in the corporate world. I know what you need to do. And I combine that with four years of training as a cognitive behavioral coach. I know how to help you naturally think like the leader you want to be.

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Mel Savage

I have 20+ years working as a leader in the corporate world. I know what you need to do. And I combine that with four years of training as a cognitive behavioral coach. I know how to help you naturally think like the leader you want to be.
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