The Magic Word is Trust

Dorelle Rabinowitz, Senior Director, Global Design, PayPal

How do we build genuine relationships with our cross-functional partners? How does that improve decision-making and build honest collaboration? We do it by building our trust muscle! Start by assuming good intentions, and then truly involve everyone in the design process. Working together builds trust and fosters strong relationships. And the more trust we build, the more we are able to have healthy debates, prompting us to better and better solutions. Because we trust that we all want the same results, we can be clear and direct with each other, and finally, we can be brutal prioritizers because we’ve spent a lot of time building our relationships. Trust is magic!

Dorelle is the Senior Director of Global Design at PayPal. She is going to tell us about building trust.

She is going to hone in how to build genuine relationships, and how that improves decision-making, collaboration, as well as a happier workplace. PayPal has about 150 people in the design organization. She has 75 people on her team, including product designers, researchers, and prototypers. They are centralized but work with many other departments. They operate in the three in a box (3iab) model – though now it’s N in a box, because of legal, compliance, marketing. She thinks they are about a 5 or 6 on the maturity model that JJ shared earlier.

Her 3iab genuinely trusts each other, but it takes practice. What is a genuine relationship? Your best friend knows all the good stuff and the bad stuff, but they are still your best friend. You may have a work wife or a work husband, which is a genuine relationship at work. It is the key to being effective, but it really hard to be that way with people at work. However, working at that can improve your work experience and ultimately your products.


What does trust have to do with it?

Your team designs a great experience that will benefit the client. But engineering is not on board, and no-one wants to make compromises. In the end, no one is happy and the outcome will be suboptimal. But now imagine what happens when you have a great relationship with your engineering manager. Good things happen because you trust that you both want the same thing – a great experience.


9 Tips for Building Trust Muscle

  1. Assume good intentions. It is easier to assume the opposite, but disagreement should not be treated as a flaw in character. Try not to be offended, or immediately disagree with a contrary point of view. Alternatively, pick up the phone rather than sending an email, or try a one-on-one conversation.
  2. Respect and value different skills. The more diverse abilities in the team helps everyone learn and create new ideas – that includes different personalities and ways of approaching problems.
  3. Bring your whole self to work. We think we need to be level-headed and reserved at work, we are worried about being unprofessional. But letting people know you care about them helps you build friendships. Work is real life!
  4. Bring people on your journey. The best idea can lose if you haven’t involved your stakeholders. You have to repeat your idea many times, to many different people. And be open to changing your idea. Don’t worry if others claim it as their own.
  5. Listen to their ideas. Active listening builds rapport, understanding, and trust. Don’t be distracted. Uses pauses and silence to get others to chime in.
  6. Know your audience, and speak in their language. Don’t assume your audience is just like you – the more you understand them, the better you can express yourself. Think about different types of communicators – analytical, amiable, expressive (they get the big picture), and driver (practical, impatient). When she is talking to her team, she will focus on design details. But when she is presenting that same work to her stakeholders, she will focus on the ROI / impact. With engineering, they will discuss re-usable assets, the time to build, etc.
  7. Broaden perspective of roles / jobs. Accept the reality that design come from many places; whether you like it or not, people outside of your team are making design decisions that affect your product. They are not just your co-workers, they are part of your design team. Use their expertise to the advantage of your product team and your company. More people designing is additive, not competitive. The reality is that all of these roles have overlap.
  8. Accept feedback as a gift. Practice giving it and getting it. When you are giving it, ask clarifying questions, focus on the problems. When you are getting it, focus on controlling your emotions. Design feedback is not about liking – that is not helpful feedback. Does the design solve the problem or not? It’s about the design, not about you. Don’t jump to conclusions.
  9. Debate isn’t a bad thing. Challenging each other’s thinking helps find other approaches. Listen, watch your tone, avoid absolutes, unlike she is doing here :). Healthy debates focus on the issue and seek to understand, so healthy debaters ask clarifying questions.

You need to adjust for each kind of relationship, engaging in different ways with your team, your boss, and your stakeholders.


Here is how she answers the top three questions she gets asked:

  • What if I’m an introvert? Build quiet time and down time into your schedule. Recognize your strengths – introverts tend to be good at one-on-one alliances. Prepare and rehearse for meetings and presentations. Speak softly but carry a big stick.
  • What if I have to work with someone I really don’t like? Pick your battles, don’t engage all the time. But ultimately, success is about cooperation, respect, and solving problems. Accept that you aren’t going to like everyone. Cultivate a poker face (if you can). One mentor told her it was her super power, because people know what she thinks. When she is thinking she looks angry – and she likes that too.
  • What if I’ve done everything I can think and it hasn’t helped? Kill them with kindness. Be professional, no matter your feelings. Don’t reflect their behavior back. Treat them with the same respect and friendliness as you would anyone else.

To practice … turn to your neighbor and ask them what their favorite dessert is. And now, decide what dessert you are gong to share.