Breech of trust happens every day to us as consumers: The dry cleaners lost your favorite pair of slacks, the computer tech never returned your call, your health club changed hours without a warning and the drive through gave you root beer instead of diet coke. We are often unaware of our own breaches of trust and the ripple effect it creates in the morale in our daily workplace or families.
In our continuing series, “Workplace Wednesday,” we explore workplace issues with Marlene Chisolm, mentor, consultant and coach to businesses and solo-preneurs.
If you have ever wondered what is missing when morale is low and communication is non-existant, take a look at the trust levels. Without trust there is no communication. Trust is based on information, previous experiences and past history. Here are five trust builders that will boost communication and help restore trust and morale at work or in families.
Trust Builder #1- Be Consistent
Inconsistency shows up in various ways including the use of rules and procedures. Some of these may be difficult to control when in a workplace, however inconsistency also shows up in the ways we act during trying times. These actions and behaviors include mood swings, irritability and being perceived as “unapproachable.” One particular manager in a distribution plant had a habit of speaking in a rude tone then hanging up on employees who called in sick. This branded him as unapproachable with a lack of personal control. William Penn said that no man is fit to command another who cannot command himself.
While no one should expect you to look away when you are disappointed, if you want to be a leader it’s important to set the standard. Two general types of challenges you face may include the emergency that must be faced head-on and the other issues involving complaints and disciplinary problems.
Since emergencies and unexpected crises will catch you off guard it is important to create a strategy. Make a conscious decision as to how you will react or respond. The decision might include a statement that shows you are in charge such as, “Hold on—let me think for a moment,” or “Let’s figure this out…” Take a deep breath, count to ten, then you can process the information without wasting energy on blaming or exploding.
For those non-emergency situations, the solution is simple: Set boundaries and a specific time to handle disputes or problems. That way, you are consciously aware of your commitment to appear consistent and in control. If the issue at hand is important to you, then you set the appointment in your calendar. If the issue at hand is more important to the other person but not necessarily to you, empower them to take responsibility by encouraging them to come to you and pick a time to meet.
Trust Builder #2 Keep Your Promises
Simple as it sounds, “don’t make promises you can’t or don’t intend to keep,” mistakes in this area can happen subtly: “I’m on your side, “ or “I’ll support you all the way” can mean one thing to someone else and something different to you.
Take for example the following situation. Miriam, an administrative professional was finishing her graduate degree and wanted to move up in the company that held little opportunity. After talking to her business unit manager about her goals she was pleasantly surprised that he agreed to do anything to help her achieve her goals. The time came when Miriam asked for a leave of absence to finish her degree, (after all, he said anything.) So she went through the proper channels and the final decision rested with the business unit manager. When it came time to ask for the decision the business unit manager passed the buck, making employees wonder who’s in charge. The moral is don’t make promises you don’t have the power to keep, or promises that might put you in a compromising position with your associates. It will come back to bite you.
Trust Builder #3 Follow-Through
Poor follow-through is a diluted example of breaking your promises. Diluted, because it is subtler and almost universally accepted in our society. The precursors are statements such as: “I’ll get back with you,” or “I’ll let you know as soon as I find out.” Before long it doesn’t really seem that important to the promise maker while the other person is waiting patiently to hear information that has most likely been forgotten.
Meetings are a classic example of promising to get back with someone, or to get information to a group as soon as it is available. How many times have you heard the response, “good question and while I don’t have the answer, I’ll be sure to get it to you before the next meeting.”
Remember that every time you say, “I’ll get back to you” you are making a promise to follow through. With that in mind, write it down and schedule it. In a formal meeting, create an action item with a date attached. Chances are, you won’t say it as often when you know you have to be accountable.
Trust Builder #4 Value Their Opinions – Especially When You Ask for Them
Trust diminishes with every unexplained surprise. Employees of a manufacturing plant were offered an option to vote on new work hours, which included twelve-hour shifts Monday through Thursday with no mandatory overtime. After the employees voted for the new hours, guess what? They ended up working twelve hours plus Fridays. They perceived that their opinions didn’t really matter in the first place. There is a solution:
Don’t ask for opinions if they don’t really matter. Another alternative is to offer these kinds of changes on a trial basis with the explanation that you will be taking their feedback into consideration on a certain date. Admit your mistakes publicly; ask for ideas to solve the differences and do something special to make up for those times when you didn’t hold to the original agreement.
Trust Builder #5 Investigate Before Jumping to Conclusions
Things are not always as they appear: Don’t forget to investigate before reprimanding. Parents often take one side before getting the other side from the sibling. Likewise this happens at work.
Valerie, a front line worker for a distribution warehouse was called into her supervisor’s office because of complaints from other employees. The supervisor made the mistake of telling Valerie that the other workers were complaining about her work and her attitude, saying that she was a troublemaker, and an instigator. Valerie’s self-esteem was crushed along with any sense of belonging she had in her department. Upon further investigation the supervisor realized that because Valerie had transferred from another department she had more seniority and expertise than the other workers. In essence they felt threatened.
The solution? Investigate and observe before jumping to conclusions. Look at all the dynamics involved and ask yourself what has changed and what are the various possible perceptions. When you do have to resort to discipline, it’s better if it comes from your observation rather than hearsay from other employees or siblings. Telling someone that others are complaining about their performance pits the employees against each other and creates drama with you in the middle.
When someone comes to you complaining about another, listen but keep your emotions and judgments out of it. Rather than taking what they say at face value, investigate by asking questions. Ask them what they can do to take control of the situation without outside help. ASK them what ACTION they want you to take: that way you will know if they just want to tattle, or if they really want intervention. When possible, help them create their own boundaries to control the situation.
Another way to get to the truth is to have a meeting with ‘secret ballots’ where associates can voice their opinions anonymously, then hold a meeting, report the information and let them know you are aware and are observing. Remember it’s easier than you think for some employees to master the art of game playing so don’t let it happen in your court. Discourage tattling and encourage open responsible communication.
It’s human nature to move away from pain and toward pleasure. It is painful to be in relationships and environments where there is no trust, whether it’s in our professional or in our personal lives. Creating a high level of trust is one way to improve communication and boost morale.
Marlene Chism MA works with companies and individuals that who to stop the drama so that teamwork and productivity can thrive. She offers this free How-To plan for decreasing stress and negativity in the office: 7 Tips for Reducing Stress and Negativity. Further help with negativity is found on Marlene’s website, StopYourDrama.com
ARE YOU A COMPLAINER? Check out this Good News Network column about complaining.
Learn a helpful acronym to reframe your thinking — and your complaining — so you can build the life you want.