Without trust and candor, everything slows down. Things need to be reworked over and over again, because people can’t relax and have faith that their colleagues will deliver.
I’ve seen many organizations in which people don’t trust anyone, so they ask multiple people for the same thing. When those people find out about the doubling up, the trust level sinks down even further.
The next time a request is made, they wonder who else is working on it. Do they really need to put in effort, or is this some kind of contest they need to position themselves within? It creates a potentially toxic environment in which people are hiding or sandbagging one another.
These aren’t necessarily bad people, in fact, they can be your best…smart, dedicated and well compensated. The problem is, without trust, all you get is pretense. There’s a veneer of cordiality and zero velocity or accountability underneath. You can’t get straight answers.
Unfortunately, that’s quite common in organizations. No one wants to admit it, but it happens all the time.
People will say, no, we trust each other. But when you observe the behavior it’s very evident there’s a pretty significant lack of trust within the culture and the relationships. It can become a systemic problem that grows over time because there’s a lot of negative power in the concept of distrust.
When someone perceives the other person doesn’t trust them, a whole host of human reactions are triggered that can totally shut down communication. If I think you don’t trust me, I’m different than when I think you do trust me. That’s just a fundamental part of the human dynamic.
To start to address the problem, the concept of trust needs to be talked about with a shared vocabulary that helps people hear one another and avoid the triggers that shut them down. The following exploration of the four dimensions of trust is a good starting point in creating that common language.
The first dimension of trust is sincerity. Is it my assessment that someone is being honest…that there’s no hidden agenda? If I doubt that, I don’t trust that person.
Second, are they reliable? Do they do what they say they’ll do, consistently, over time? Another aspect of this, because no one meets all their commitments 100% of the time, is the way they manage those commitments.
If someone says to me, I’ll get you that report at 9:00am Monday and an hour later something happens and they realize that promise is in jeopardy, I want to know in an hour. I don’t want to know Monday morning at 8:45 because then I have no recourse.
By coming right back to me and saying, I have a problem with this, they’ve enabled us to work it out. I may be in a bit of a bind but as long as they can help me figure out some other way to do it or they say: Can we get make it work to get it done on Tuesday? Now, we’re back in a trusting interaction.
The third dimension is competence. Does the person know what they’re doing? Are their promises in the arena of their expertise? Somebody could have an MBA from Wharton but that doesn’t mean they know how to fly the airplane that I’m getting on. It’s like the Holiday Inn jokes. I don’t know what I’m doing here but I stayed in the Holiday Inn last night.
I want to know that someone is competent in the arena in which they’re making commitments and has the humility to admit when they aren’t, because nobody knows how to do everything.
A key concept here is that when most people perceive there is doubt from the other person, they see that from the orientation of sincerity. So if you express to me, hmm, I don’t know about that, I might hear, hmm, are you genuine or are you manipulating me? There is a powerful trigger of defensiveness when people feel their integrity is in question.
However, a lot of the time my question doesn’t stem from a doubt about your integrity. It may be that I’m wondering if the issue at hand is in your skill set. Or, is there room in your schedule to do it? If your schedule is full and you say anyway, yes, I’ll do that. And I find out later that you’re swamped and then you come back to me and say, well, there was so much going on…. that tells me you don’t know how to manage your commitments. That’s a trust issue, in the dimension of, can I trust you to be reliable?
It’s valid to come back to you and say: I know you were sincere. I know you want to, but you’re not that good at managing your commitments. Let’s work on that.
The last dimension of trust is caring. Whether we care about one another or not grounds all the rest.
Do you and I care about one another’s identity, future, reputation…all those things that are so important to each of us? You can be sincere about a commitment, you can be reliable about keeping your commitments, you can be competent in your arena of expertise, but if you don’t care about the impact of something that might affect me then it’s hard for me to be in a trusting relationship with you.
If I find out you heard about something that was going to affect me and you didn’t say anything, that’s not a competence issue or a reliability issue or sincerity issue. That’s a relationship issue, and I will have a deficiency of trust in you because you didn’t talk to me about it.
When you and I care about each other, our relationship can sustain breakdowns in reliability because I will know that you’re doing your best. I will know that from time to time things happen. I’m going to naturally reach out to you and say, how can I support you? How can we make this work?
Whereas, if you’re just a means to an end to me, then it’s only about competence and reliability.
When people understand these dimensions, they’re equipped to have performance conversations, partnering conversations between groups, manager to subordinate conversations. A dialogue can take place that can pinpoint what’s really going on and avoid the damage of the default responses that emerge when people feel they’re not trusted.
Up next: Restoring trust after it’s been damaged.