People usually make decisions about someone’s trustworthiness based on a series of interactions over a short period of time, although often three seconds of meeting may lead us to consider someone as immediately ‘not nice’. Our mindsets are geared towards making some instant decisions based on body language, looks, dress, attitude, religion, accent, ethnicity, politics, points of view and so on.
Various research bodies worldwide have highlighted how managers should but don’t always match their actions to their words and not to put their own self-interest above others. Similarly, the same research acknowledges that the majority of managers take an immediate view of a direct report and that view rarely alters. It’s worth noting that employees conversely of course have a similar view of their managers.
Building trust frequently takes time, but a single incident – when, for example, a manager behaves without integrity, goes back on his or her word or doesn’t support a team member – may very quickly erode that trust. As with many relationships, it’s possible but never definite that trust can be repaired and rebuilt in time. Often not. And, in situations where trust is low in the first place, the main responsibility for rebuilding this trust lies with the manager.
Feeling trusted will certainly contribute to how well we trust those who manage our work and us as individuals. Sometimes, the best way for a manager to build a trusting relationship with employees is by asking them how they want to be managed. It’s a simple question of asking them what kind or style of management would help them do their best work. A discussion along these lines - with input of available management styles from the manager - will always offer useful insights.
But there are often situations where an employee may simply shrug his or her shoulders because s/he hasn’t a clue about management styles or feels uncomfortable at being asked that kind of question. In which case it’s incumbent upon a manager to explain some options in detail with examples to the employee and suggest a pattern of approaches towards the style of management that would work best. That requires the manager to make time to do this, not a commodity that managers will always offer.
Some people don’t mind an element of micro-management, because it provides the opportunity to show what they’ve achieved a task or offers reassurance if they lack confidence. Other people see micro-management as being nothing less than interference and assumes in the employee’s mind a lack of trust. Managers must be willing to adapt to a style that works best for an employee.
New employees are often a focus of attention. They should be. New personnel are included in induction programmes and other activities that make them aware of what’s what in the organisation. Whilst getting off to a good start is key, it’s also important to keep checking up with longer-term employees about their expectations of a manager. This happens rarely. Unresolved misunderstandings can reduce trust and can simmer for years. They can lead to deep-rooted conflict and they can cause output to fail and fall.
A timely series of conversations for all direct reports might not only immediately improve a situation, but will also likely encourage both parties to speak more openly in the future, something always to be welcomed. Unfortunately, managers often avoid face-to-face communication other than daily greetings, briefings or reviews. In truth, they should increase the amount of time they speak to people under their charge. And, of course, listen – something that many managers simply don’t do or don’t do sufficiently well.
People’s circumstances and priorities change over time and they might want something different from their relationship with work. Being interested in those priorities (and exploring what can be done to support changes) is a clear signal that a manager has the interest of the employee at heart. Being able to affect changes, however small, to support new ambitions and, say, offer more flexible working, will demonstrate that words are followed up with actions. That equals the balance and reinforcement of trust. Words that are followed up with nothing lead to dramatic falls in trust.
Cynicism is often high when trust is low. It takes some bravery to challenge negative views that may not have any evidence to support them but, left unchallenged, they become a real impediment to creating a more trusting environment. Older employees may demonstrate declining levels of trust; more effort is needed to engage and involve them. This group is often denied training and development opportunities. Making such things available could revitalise the relationship between older employee and the organisation. Investing in people’s development at any stage in their career shows belief in them and also shows that they are seen as part of the future no matter how long that future may be.
Managers need to show a genuine willingness to repair broken relationships. They must talk openly about what a trusting environment means to each individual. The result will be that they and the employee will gain an appreciation of what trust means and what trust can do. Showing this kind of willingness is a good place to start in getting trust to work.
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