A new world order powered by trust in the workplace
Advanced technology has the potential to bring us closer together, however, doesn’t instantly make us relate or communicate with one another better. Workplaces fueled by a culture of distrust, overuse of power and control will see these issues amplified by remote working.
I’m a Gen-Xer who experienced long-distance relationships at a time when a landline shared with flatmates or email was all I had to keep romance, friendship and family connection going across the Atlantic. It puzzled me why some of those relationships grew apart rather quickly while others sustained a deep connection over time.
Today’s long distance relationships, including the workplace, benefit from powerful face to face virtual interaction at the push of a button. Advanced technology has the potential to bring us closer together, however, doesn’t instantly make us relate or communicate with one another better. Workplaces fueled by a culture of distrust, overuse of power and control will see these issues amplified by remote working.
Only when we change how we bring ourselves to work, our mindset and behaviours can the organisational culture change. And it starts with leaders role modelling what acceptable behaviour looks like.
A new paradigm of trust in the workplace
According to the 2020 Eldeman Trust Barometer, a shocking 83% of employees globally are worried about losing their job to automation or the gig economy and 56% believe capitalism as it exists today causes more harm than good. This leaves employees with a deep sense of dissatisfaction leading to a desperate search for ways to take back control of their relationship with their employer and influence what happens at organisations.
Gallup’s global database tells us that only one in three employees agree that they trust the leadership of their organisation. In a low trust environment people are disengaged and mentally checked out, over time corroding the employer’s brand. When people trust their leadership they’re twice as likely to stick around, impacting the speed of initiatives taking hold.
As organisations navigate an uncertain and complex world having to rapidly address challenges in business operations, leaders must equally focus on a more unusual task: building trust to re-shape the working culture.
The anatomy of trust
How could I know as a young adult in the early 2000s that I could trust my long-distance partner? How do we determine if we can trust our manager, peer or employee? It turns out trust is built in the smallest of moments and there’s no panacea for lack of trust.
“Trust is choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else.” Charles Feltman
Brené Brown, PhD professor and lecturer at University of Houston, offers specific language that helps us break down the anatomy of trust:
- Clearly defined boundaries — communicating, holding and respecting them.
- Reliability — consistently doing what you say you’re going to do. Being very clear on your limitations so you don’t take on so much that you can’t deliver on your commitments.
- Accountability — owning your mistakes, apologizing for them and making amends. Allowing others to do the same.
- Confidentiality — what is shared with you, holding in confidence unless you have explicit consent to share. Acknowledging and respecting confidentiality.
- Integrity — what you do when no one is watching. Choosing what’s right over what’s fast or easy. Practicing your values, not just professing them.
- Non-judgement — Not judging others but more importantly having the courage to ask for help without judging yourself as lesser for needing help.
- Generosity — assume the most generous thing about people’s intentions and behaviours.
Creating trust in the workplace
Psychological safety nurtures a thriving team
As humans our brains are wired to respond to primitive threats by preparing our bodies to fight or flight. Known as the amygdala hijack, it cannot tell apart an aggressive email from our boss from being chased by a bear. When we feel threatened our body automatically releases stress hormones that trigger emotions like fear, anxiety, aggression and anger. We go into tunnel vision, our blood sugar levels drop and we’re no longer able to think clearly.
Leaders can create an environment conducive for thinking and thriving by:
- Removing directive and forceful language and opting for non-violent communication,
- Not holding anyone hostage to group decisions, inviting people to bring their whole self into work,
- Establishing a shared belief that everyone is safe by allowing interpersonal risk-taking in ways that lead to learning and changing. I love this one.
Equal voice leads to high autonomy
The concept of equal voice is exemplified well in Captain David Marquet’s talk on Greatness. By replacing orders with intent, you give the team control, build competence and clarity, and enable proactive and passionate contribution from your team.
This isn’t about democratic consensus, but seeing every member of the team as integral, reliable and accountable adults, and giving them the control and power to make the decisions at their role level.
Where to start?
“A new way of being enables a new way of working. Shifting mindset is key.” Michael Sahota
Develop self awareness of how you’re perceived by others
On a scale of 1 – 10, how reliable are you? Self deception can be dangerous so it’s important to first uncover and acknowledge where you are in reality. A good place to start is to ask your team and peers to provide feedback, ask them what behaviours they see in yourself that aren’t helpful. It may feel unnatural at first but acknowledging the impact of your actions on others will give you a list of tangible things to work on.
Empathize through perspective taking
Next time you find yourself jumping to conclusions about your employee’s performance or attitude, take a moment before you act to consider other viewpoints beyond your own. Invite them for a chat and share your observations, how their behaviour is being perceived and may be impacting others and the organisation. Then listen actively to their perspective, needs and concerns.
Taking the time to understand their needs, and not simply pushing for what you want to get out of them, will support the cycle of trust between you.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of change
Reflecting upon my personal journey, I’ve come a long way from the Gen-Xer who didn’t have the mindset to navigate a long distance relationship. I messed up along the way and my learning came from being able to openly own my mistakes, ask for help and give it another go.
Growth comes from having unconditional support and forgiveness to learn from mistakes. No one will stick their neck out if they’re afraid of the consequences. Owning your mistakes, apologizing for them and making amends will give others permission to do the same.
In summary, why a trusting environment matters
When it comes to trust, there’s little difference between the workplace and other parts of life. Nobody likes to be in a relationship based on distrust. You’ll avoid it, grow apart and eventually break-up.
The adaptability organisations require to thrive in today’s complex and uncertain world will come from employees who are emotionally engaged and feel safe taking risks to learn.
Leadership in any level of an organisation plays an important role to shape culture and make work a place everyone enjoys – even if it’s a virtual place. One where we trust we’ll do right by one another. One where everyone operates from the prime directive of understanding and trusting that people are whole, capable and doing their very best based on the skills, knowledge and situations at hand.