Trust – the elusive quality in a working relationship

Good working relationships are based on trust, but how do we deal with our emotions to build and feel trust in our working teams?

It seems rather an elusive quality!  Past studies have looked at trust across the workplace and it seems that most of us do not have a great deal of trust in our employers.  This appears to come from perceived unfairness and unequal opportunities, lack of leadership, high employee turnover and work environments which are not conducive to collaboration.  Operating ethically and equally are other factors which are coming to the fore more than ever, particularly with the younger workforce.

In Dr Geetu Bharwaney’s book ‘Emotional Resilience’ she describes the values attributed to trust as

T – truthfulness
R – respect
U – understanding
S – support
T – time

She also acknowledges that we experience these qualities in different ways and notes that when any of them are missing our working relationships may not be as productive as they could be.

As we spend around at least a third of our lives at work, it is important that we enjoy what we do as much as we can.  Part of that enjoyment comes from getting along with the other people in our workplace.  Whilst it is not always possible to be friends with co-workers, there are some things you can do to foster a greater level of trust, so tensions can be quickly eased and tasks completed more efficiently.

Communication is the Key

Communication is the most important tool in making any relationship flourish, whether that is in the workplace or in our personal lives.  The latest trend in many workplace environments is the idea that we’re creating teams together, with potentially virtual members as well.

The concept of a team is that everyone is working together toward the same end goal. Open, effective communication helps to develop that team mentality and engenders greater feelings of trust. When you communicate openly and honestly with your co-workers, they’re likely to do the same with you.

In order to communicate effectively, being aware of the emotions we feel that potentially get in the way is important.  For instance, our truthfulness can be affected by several difficult emotions:

  • Fear – we may have been hurt before
  • Anxiety – will our colleagues like us if they know the whole truth?
  • Uncertainty – will my colleague want to know me if they really understand what is going on?

Our respect for our colleagues is affected in similar ways:

  • Fear – will my colleagues be able to respect me and I them?
  • Anger – I am annoyed at what has happened in the past in my team and I cannot forgive my team members.

Emotions that get in the way of our understanding:

  • Selfishness – believing it is more important for others to understand me, believing I am more important and I have more important things to say which stop me listening.
  • Fear – will anyone understand me? 
  • Anger – everyone is so awful to me, why should I bother?
  • Sadness – if only I had more understanding earlier in my life

Fear often rears its head when we are offering and looking for support.  We can have a fear of being really cared for or really caring for others.  Anger brings a similar reaction. It is often simpler to not bother, or be prepared to bother, if we are still angry with past situations rather then try and deal with them or leave them behind and move on.

Time is the final element of trust.  The question which is invariably asked is based around the belief that the working relationship is strong enough to make and keep promises and be bothered to invest the time.

To move forward from these emotions which block our team productivity, we need to be able to give and accept feedback.  Learning how to give and receive feedback is one of the most important skills we can learn in our working life-time. 

Trust is a very important part of our ability to do either.  Talking about how we like to give and receive feedback will offer a positive framework which we can take forward as important part of our working relationships.

The key rules of giving or receiving feedback are:

  • Be specific
  • Be timely
  • Be prepared
  • Choose your time and space
  • Manage your emotions and non-verbal behaviour
  • Consider the other person’s style – do they prefer a direct or more indirect approach
  • Separate the intention from the outcome.

A great example of where prompt, specific and prepared feedback would have made for a more trustful and productive workplace is the situation Geetu describes in the book with Martine.

In brief:

“Martine felt ostracised by her team mates and there was an uncomfortable atmosphere in the office.  Following discussions with her colleagues, it transpired they thought she was slacking in her work responsibilities and leaving them too much to do.  Whilst they had their heads down working, she took frequent breaks, and if her work was not completed on time and she had to work late, she would expect time in lieu to cover this.  This gradually caused tension and animosity amongst the team. 

The team manager was reluctant to give feedback, as it would have been a difficult conversation.  However, without doing so the situation was only going to get worse.  It was obvious that feedback should have been given much earlier on.

However, on talking to Martine, it became clear that she was feeling insecure in her skills and really needed some additional training but felt unable to ask for it.  Her lack of confidence exacerbated her smoking habit and, as the only smoker in the office, her frequent cigarette breaks were noticed.”

If trust was embedded into the team culture, Martine would have felt able to ask for training and her manager would have felt able to approach her more quickly.  Once established, the whole situation simply disappeared by offering Martine more support and ensuring her colleagues were aware of her concerns. If you would like to read more about building trust in the workplace, go to our online store or Amazon to purchase ‘Emotional Resilience’.

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