How to develop this extremely valuable professional asset.

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Trust is important, in both work and life. Even in the business world — where we tend to assume that people are looking out for themselves — the most reliable and productive relationships are built on a foundation of trust.

In fact, a reputation for trustworthiness is an extremely valuable professional asset. So it’s a good idea to develop and nurture one.

How? Well, the single best way to get people to trust you is to occasionally put their interests above your own. Making a personal or professional sacrifice in support of others will win you the gratitude, regard and, yes, trust of co-workers, clients and customers.

Naturally, a little goes a long way here. No one is saying you should be a doormat. At the same time, don’t fear being generous. Too many people these days seem to believe that when someone gains, someone else loses. This is not a good way to be; besides, effective business is always ultimately win-win.

More ways to build trust:

Be trusting yourself. Very often all it takes for someone to trust you is for you to step forward and trust them first. Start small and build from there.

Be honest about your motives and goals. If you’re trying to sell something to someone, say so. If you’re seeking a favor or concession, be open about it. We’re all in the work world to earn a living. It’s not a secret.

Be a pro. Competence, knowledgeableness and skill invariably lead to trust, as well as respect. You want to be the person others turn to for answers. You want to be the rock.

Be civil. Treating others with consideration — including people you don’t like or from whom you have nothing to gain — is an excellent way to inspire trust, not only from those people but from everyone else. And it costs you nothing.

Nowadays, when so much business is conducted via email and text, it can feel especially difficult to establish and maintain trusting relationships. Indeed, you may find yourself working closely with people you’ve never even met. But your trustworthiness can be conveyed just as easily from a distance as in person. Start simply by honoring confidences and delivering on your commitments.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at