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Trauma Informed Communication Series #3: 7 Strategies for Building Trust Through Transparency

Updated: Jan 31

For part 3 of our series on Trauma-Informed Communication, we’re digging into Trustworthiness and Transparency. 

People often distrust systems because they or someone they care about has had negative experiences with those systems. In order to rebuild trusting relationships, we need to show compassion, be patient, and act consistently. It takes time to build trust. 

Let’s break down 7 communication strategies you can use to be more transparent and build trust with your audience. 

Be upfront about cost and commitment. 

I regularly receive emails about webinars that don’t have a cost listed in the email, but when I follow the link to register, there is a cost. I don’t know about you, but this feels like a bait-and-switch to me. While it might seem small, if this happens repeatedly my trust in the organization goes down. 

We want to be explicit about how long things will take, how much they cost, and the expectations we have of people, so they don’t feel blind-sided and frustrated later. We need to share this information early and often. 

Explain why you’re collecting information.

Most of us need to collect some kind of data about the people we work with. That’s understandable and in my experience, people are willing to share a lot when they know how it’s going to be used. 

A woman fills out a form.

Some questions you may want to address are:

  • Will this data be shared with funders? 

  • Does my response impact eligibility?

  • How long do you keep my information? 

  • Is there a way to opt out of sharing certain information?

Something as common as asking for someone’s phone number can impact whether or not they feel comfortable sharing. Sharing how we’re going to use data helps people feel at ease.   

Acknowledge when things go side-ways.

I talk to so many people who share sentiments like, “I’m not mad that it didn’t work, I’m mad that my frustration wasn’t acknowledged.”  

Things don’t always go as we planned. We’re human - we miss things, we get sick, we make mistakes. I know I’ve underestimated how long something would take and needed more time to complete a task. In that case, I’ll communicate that to whoever needs to know. 

When we’re open about what’s happening and validate any resulting frustration, people we’re trying, and we care about their experience.

Tell people where QR codes and links go. 

People are weary of internet scams and are reluctant to use QR codes and links if they don’t know where they go. We’ve all been warned that even very legitimate looking emails and materials can be dangerous. 

A woman uses her phone to scan a QR code.

When you’re sharing QR codes include a few words about where it goes and write out the link. In addition to this making your content more Accessible, people will be more likely to use it.

Similarly, if you’re sharing an embedded link, tell people where it’s going to take them. Talk to your website manager to make sure the links you share are descriptive and have your organization name, rather than a series of random characters. 

Close the loop. 

This is something we say a lot. What does it mean? For any communication exchange, we want to make sure we’re not leaving loose ends. 

For example, if you ask someone to email you something, acknowledge when you receive it. If someone asks you for something, tell them when you’ll respond. 

Closing the loop shows that we respect the time and effort they put into communicating with us. 

Check before sharing people’s stories, even if you already have permission. 

Storytelling is an important part of mission-based work, especially when we rely on funding from grants and donations. Basic legal requirements say we need to get consent for sharing photos and other information about people we work with. This often looks like a release form people sign during intake or at special events. 

True transparency goes beyond the legal requirements. Working in partnership with communities means making sure they have a say in how their stories are told. Before sharing that appeal or annual report, show it to the people in it. Better yet, involve them in the design process. 

A group of women collaborate on a project.

Use plain language.

When we share information that’s overly complex, dense, or uses words our audience doesn’t know, they start to view us as out of touch, condescending, or corrupt. 

Using plain language shows our audience that the most important thing to us is that they understand our message, not sounding smart or important. Because plain language is about centering your audience, it inherently values their perspective and experience.  

At their core, these strategies are grounded in treating our audience like humans. beings. When you lead with transparency and compassion, your audience has a more positive experience with your organization and are more likely to continue that relationship over time.



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