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Build Affective and Cognitive Trust to Bond With Your Remote Team. Here’s How.

You can’t be a successful partnership professional if you can’t connect with people. The ability to communicate, build trust, and collaborate well with others practically comes with the job description. Which, in case you haven’t realized yet, can be challenging to do in a remote setting. It can feel daunting (and sometimes, even awkward) to build connections with your coworkers when they’re merely a grid of faces on your screen.

While there isn’t a hack for mastering remote-work relationships, there are experts who can steer us in the right direction. In our third Crossbeam Happy Hour, Claire Lew, CEO of Know Your Team, explains: 

  • The two kinds of trust required for social connection
  • How to ask better questions in your 1:1 meetings (and make them less monotonous)

The Two Kinds of Trust You Need From Your Coworkers

Virtual happy hours and team-building games at your monthly all-hands meetings are always fun and entertaining—but a monthly virtual gathering isn’t enough for building tight-knit relationships. 

Why? Because social connection is about building trust, specifically two kinds:

  1. Affective trust - the warmth and rapport you share with someone.
  2. Cognitive trust - your belief about someone’s competence and capability.

 

Affective Trust

“ [Affective trust is] one type of trust that we really rely on as a team to be effective... [It’s] the kind of trust that is based on the feeling you have about someone that’s positive,” says Lew. “It’s enormously important in a remote team because you don’t get that as much.”

In a remote setting, we often overinvest in excelling at our job and performing well (cognitive trust) vs. getting to know our colleagues (affective trust). Affective trust is needed most in the beginning of a new relationship. 

The days of sharing your weekend plans in the breakroom or getting after-work drinks might not be as doable as they used to be, but you should still create space in your virtual work day to spark those conversations whether it’s through a Slack DM or a virtual coffee chat. Lew suggests establishing a buddy system to help new hires get to know their teammates (and vice versa), or creating dedicated non-work channels in Slack or Teams for people to socialize (e.g. a pets channel for folks to share stories and photos about their furry family members). 

She recommends, “When you start a meeting, instead of spending five minutes to ask about your colleague’s weekend, spend 20.” Your natural instinct might be to immediately get down to business when a meeting begins (after all, aren’t we all busy?). However, a simple, “How was your weekend?” or “What have you been binge-watching on Netflix?” not only lightens the mood, but it also gives you a chance to build rapport with your teammate. 

 

Cognitive Trust

Cognitive trust is your “belief in someone’s dependability and reliability.” You build cognitive trust through your actions. It’s your ability to follow through on your word, show humility, and do what’s best for your team. 

To gauge how well you’re building cognitive trust, Lew suggests asking yourself, “Am I following through on what I promised to the team? Am I being vulnerable in admitting my mistakes? Am I explaining why we’re doing certain things in a team?”

Each time you show your competence, it’s like you're making little deposits in your team’s cognitive trust bank.

Bottom line: You need both affective and cognitive trust to cultivate connection. Don’t just wait for the monthly happy hour to build rapport with your colleagues. Intentionally seek out those interactions and make time for them during your work day or work week.

Use 1:1 Meetings to Build Both Kinds of Trust

When 1:1 meetings are done correctly, they’re a powerful tool to support your coworkers and build both affective and cognitive trust with them. Scheduling a 1:1 meeting isn’t enough, though—you need to ask thoughtful questions. 

Ditch questions that are notorious for getting dull responses:

  • What should we improve?
  • Tell me how I can help you as a manager or teammate?
  • What can I be doing better?
  • What’s going well?
  • How’s it going?
  • What feedback do you have for me?

Instead, opt for questions that get the other person talking (think: the more specific, the better):

  • When have you felt bored?
  • What projects or meetings have energized you?
  • What have you noticed about your remote work environment that’s helped you do great work or been a blocker to you?
  • Do you feel like we’re having too many meetings? Too many Slack DMs?
  • Do you want to be included in more social interactions or more meetings?
  • When have you been annoyed or bothered by something in the last two weeks?

(We also find these questions from Know Your Team and HubSpot to be super helpful. Give them a try at your next 1:1 meeting!)

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If you’re curious about how you can be a stellar remote teammate and communicator, then watch the full interview with Claire Lew. She covers the three basic mindset shifts you need in a remote setting, how to grapple with feeling tired when working from home, and more: