Leadership hack: Building trust takes trust
When I first joined WhatsApp as head of product, I was terrified. I had a once-in-a-career opportunity — to work on a product I loved and learn from a very different product culture than I was used to — and I was worried I’d mess it up.
In the first all-hands after I joined, my new manager called me onstage with a surprise request. “Tell us about yourself,” he said, and handed me the mic.
I ended up talking about my background, growing up in a rural town in Pennsylvania. I talked about why WhatsApp was important to me, because it made me feel like my family was always close by. And then, taking a deep breath, I described my fears too — that I wouldn’t understand something crucial about the culture or product, and therefore not do a good job stewarding it into the future.
Building trust with the people I work with is so important — not just for the success of my team, but for my happiness at work. But it always seems to take months of working closely with someone to feel like we’ve built a truly trusting relationship.
I’ve found one thing that accelerates that timeline: treating a new partner as if I already trust them.
I try to open a relationship by sharing what I would normally share with someone I already trust — how I’m worried because my kids’ school closed for covid exposure and I’m mentally trying to plan out the next few days, or that I’m excited because I had a realization about how to make my team stronger but kicking myself because I should’ve thought of it months ago, or that I’m struggling with feeling isolated from my team because we haven’t seen each other much during the pandemic.
Of course, that could backfire. Opening with a personal topic could be a distraction from the work we need to get done, or someone could think that the struggle I’m describing could be a sign that I’m not a strong enough partner for them. And in these days of back-to-back videoconferences, it’s hard to make space for casual conversation.
But I’ve found that opening with vulnerability usually sparks a strong connection faster. I don’t have to hide how I’m feeling because I’ve already shown them who I am. And it’s easier for them to share what they’re going through, because they know I trust them.
It’s much easier to reciprocate a trusting relationship than it is to initiate it. So if I’m willing to take the first step and be vulnerable, I’ve found my new work connections turn into high-fidelity relationships much faster.
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Love it Ami - very clear and actionable! thx for writing this.
Were there aspects or context that helped you feel more confident sharing your vulnerabilities? For example, you had been an executive in Insta, FB for several years, had a lot of proven success. I wonder if you would have approached it differently if you were brand new to the company group?