Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Four Ways To Spot Reduced Trust

By Steve Roesler
We're all looking for trusting relationships to build a strong foundation for our businesses, careers, or favorite cause.

When things don't "feel" right at a gut level it's easy to say, "Let's do a survey and find out if something is going on with our customer/employee/donor relationships." That's both expensive and time consuming. By the time you get the results, here's what has happened:

1. The fact that people have participated in a survey automatically raises the expectation that something different is going to happen as a result. If nothing different happens, then trust diminishes.

2. People expect to at least hear the results. Again: if the results aren't shared, people wonder why they spent their time and energy trying to be helpful. And, they wonder what was so horrendous that it couldn't be discussed. A double-dip of trust reduction.

3. Unless you do a survey quickly and then respond quickly with the results, enough time will have passed that the issues impacting the survey may no longer be relevant.

Trust: Diagnose This!

It's helpful to learn to recognize for yourself the signs that things aren't quite right in the "trust" department. You can do an accurate diagnosis as the first step to getting back on track with your relationships--on and off the job.

Hedging Their Bets

Hedging is placing a bet elsewhere so that if a current proposal or situation fails, people have other alternatives. That certainly makes sense on the surface. The problem is that hedging becomes a distraction. It takes a lot of time for people to develop a Plan B. If you think about such instances in your own life, the alternative can start to look more interesting than the current assignment. The result:  You begin to see people putting less effort into the work at hand. 

Lesson: When you see people talking more about options that protect themselves vs. actions that achieve the communal goal, you are seeing a lack of confidence and trust.
Emotional Distance
Confession: When I don't trust someone, the easiest thing to do is to minimize my contact with them. The payoff is this: I reduce the risk of betrayal, hurt, or other consequences of failed trust.

When a person distances one's self themselves from their  work relationships, they aren't fully engaged. They may be occupied in task-oriented work 100% of time but they aren't contributing with their full potential. 

Lesson: If you are a manager and see someone operating in this way, it's time for a quiet talk. That means: Listen. Start off by relating what you see and asking what could be getting in the way of the potential that you've seen demonstrated in the past. Be prepared: It may be you. Listen and hear what is being said. Whatever the issue, thank the person and allow that you need some time to ponder what was said so that it can be addressed in the most helpful way. Then, be sure to follow through.

I'm Outta Here

Leaving might mean finding another job within the company or even leaving the company for seemingly greener pastures. It's also a kind of retribution. "I'll leave you without my skills; then, your lack of trustworthiness will be laid bare for all to see."

Lesson: If one person does a disappearing act yet all is (genuinely) well with everyone else, it may be best to close the book and move on. But when you start to see the resumes hit the street, it's time to talk with each person and determine the underlying issues.

When people don't trust someone, it's common for a group to gang up with others who share those sentiments: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend!"  When this happens, you get groups who start hedging and distancing themselves as entire teams or departments. 
This magnifies the negative impact of those behaviors on the situation.

Lesson: If there's a party and you are the only one not invited, congratulations:  it's probably about you. It's time for a sit-down that may very well call for a great deal of humility on your part and lots of mutual forgiveness to get things back on track.

Note: When you sense any of the above beginning to surface, sit down with people and describe what you are sensing. You may find out you are wrong and that nothing--or something totally different--is happening. 

Experience has shown me that good diagnostic skills are the lifeblood of managers everywhere. So is action. 

Don't wait until you've confirmed your diagnosis in a thousand different ways. Holding out for perfection may prove you correct but you'll show up just in time for the autopsy.

Gotta lay off of those CSI reruns.

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