Paul Zak recently wrote a piece for the Harvard Business Review on building trust within the workplace; HBR’s Curt Nickisch (@CurtNickisch) spoke about the impact of rudeness — as well as Zak’s article –on NPR. Both got me thinking not only about the role of — and achieving — trust, but how the way we interact with each other contributes to the “demise or thrive” of trust within a company.

There is a lot of talk in today’s workplaces about culture. How to create a “successful” culture. How to maintain it as the company grows and evolves. How to hire people that are a cultural fit. For all the talk of culture, it’s ironic just how fragile it can be and how hard it is to get right. I visualize companies walking a tight rope as they try to find the right mix — more than a lack of culture altogether, but not so much that it overshadows the company’s goals and product/service/offering.

As Zak points out, a company’s trustworthiness can determine just how successful not only its culture, but bottom line, ultimately will be. While I recommend reading the article in its entirety, here is a quick snapshot of how Zak recommends managing for trust:

• Recognize excellence
• Induce “challenge stress”
• Give people discretion in how they do their work
• Enable job crafting
• Share information broadly
• Intentionally build relationships
• Facilitate whole-person growth
• Show vulnerability

The good news is that so many companies today recognize the need for many, if not most/all, of these things. With many in the tech sector leading the way, companies understand that people appreciate being able to bring their whole selves to the office and having the freedom to work in the ways that are most effective for them. The bad news is that many others either do not recognize the need…or fail at implementation.

The Role of Effective Communication
One of the things I think this list overlooks or does not delve into deep enough is the need for companies to communicate effectively. Relationship building becomes nearly impossible if two people don’t know how to talk to each other in a way that they both feel heard, are both able to listen and take steps that are mutually beneficial. Likewise, inauthentic vulnerability may work for some, but most will see right through it — which chips away at the very trust you’re trying to build.

People are simultaneously complex and simple, and the best leaders understand that. While people are at their core individuals with nuances and unique personalities, we all fit (relatively, at least) into categories that prescribe how we communicate, interact, feel respected and learn. A good example is introvert vs. extrovert.

You likely work with people that talk over you, don’t talk enough, seem disconnected or are overly pushy and aggressive. The way you interact with each of them determines the success you will have at building a reciprocal, trustworthy relationship. As with any relationship, it’s not something that happens overnight, but requires a commitment from all parties. What’s more, it requires an open mind and willingness to learn and think differently; I argue that this is the part where most relationships and teams fail. [Allison Mooney offers an easy-to-digest approach — and tool to recognize — the categories we each fall into in her book, Pressing the Right Buttons.]

How Communication Can Build Trust
Companies that want to build a culture that reflects their values as well as foster trust need to take stock of how people — from leadership down — interact with one another. If, for example, leadership places importance on transparency for the business, but can be caught in a lie regarding personnel issues, the foundation on which trust is built will be thin. Rather, authentic, personalized communication is necessary for the leadership to demonstrate in order to cultivate trust. Put another way, it takes a commitment to treating the company’s employees as individuals – understanding the way each person communicates, learns, works and operates. Team leaders or managers can create a culture in which each person is heard in his/her own way. That may mean having a separate meeting following a brainstorm if group-think isn’t their thing.

Trust is earned and can be lost easily. Therefore, the way we interact with people — whether it’s in the office or in our personal lives — can dramatically impact how much trust is built. It requires constant work and should never be taken for granted. Successful leaders conduct regular “checks” to make sure their employees feel heard, respected and part of the team. Losing touch can mean more than employee turn-over; it can have a dramatic impact on the bottom line.


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