Leadership

3 ways to get people to trust you, according to a Harvard expert who trained Uber execs

Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope in "Parks and Recreation."
Danny Feld | Getty Images
Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope in "Parks and Recreation."

In the midst of a very tumultuous 2017, Uber hired Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei as the SVP of leadership and strategy to help instill something that she said the company had lost: trust.

"I was super attracted to going to an organization that was metaphorically and perhaps quite literally on fire," the professor says in a recent Ted Talk. "This was an organization that had lost trust with every constituent that mattered."

Uber brought Frei on in June, before the departure of CEO Travis Kalanick. Over the course of 250 days, Frei trained Uber's executive team and over 3,000 Uber managers, giving them the tools they need to build trust in each other and, eventually, restore the public's confidence in the company. In February of this year, she left to resume teaching at Harvard.

"What happened at Uber? When I got there, Uber was wobbling all over the place. Empathy, logic, authenticity were all wobbling like crazy," Frei reports in her Ted Talk. These traits, she says, are key for earning trust.

Based on Frei's approach with Uber, here are three simple ways to get more people to trust you.

Don't pretend to be someone you're not

Being yourself can be challenging when you're not around other people like you, Frei points out.

Uber may still struggle to create an environment where people can be themselves, but "that doesn't make Uber very different from all of the other companies I've seen in Silicon Valley and beyond," Frei says. In these places, those who uphold the status quo often get rewarded over those who offer a unique perspective.

Still, Frei says, "if we hold back who we are, we're less likely to be trusted." That's because "we as a human species can sniff out in a moment, literally in a moment, whether or not someone is being their authentic true self."

And if we can't be trusted at work, "we're less likely to be given stretch assignments," which then means "we're less likely to get promoted," she says.

To be more authentic, "wear whatever makes you feel fabulous. Pay less attention to what you think people want to hear from you and far more attention to what your authentic, awesome self needs to say," Frei suggests.

Be upfront with people

When you're with others, it's important to get your point across quickly and directly.

"Start with your point in a crisp half-sentence and then give your supporting evidence," Frei says. "This means that people will be able to get access to our awesome ideas, and just as importantly, if you get cut off before you're done, you still get credit for the idea, as opposed to someone else coming in and snatching it from you."

Steer clear of long-winded stories or explanations. That will help lessen the chances of being misunderstood.

Avoid distractions when you're around others

Giving others your undivided attention is an important part of being empathetic.

"In the meetings at Uber, it was not uncommon for people to be texting one another about the meeting. I had never seen anything like it," Frei says. "It did not create a safe, empathetic environment."

Once she picked up on this habit, Frei created a new rule: "Technology off and away."

"We are all so busy with so many demands on our time, it's easy to crowd out the time and space that empathy requires," Frei says. "If you do nothing else, please put away your cell phone. It is the largest distraction magnet yet to be made, and it is super difficult to create empathy and trust in its presence."

The change "forced people to look up, to look at the people in front of them, to listen to them, to immerse themselves in their perspectives and to collaborate in unprecedented ways," Frei adds.

Using the same no-tech, low-distraction strategy is a good way to de-stress and to connect with coworkers, family or friends. When we "look at the people right in front of us, listen to them, deeply immerse ourselves in their perspectives, then we have a chance of having a sturdy leg of empathy," Frei says.

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