When office politics prevail in a work environment, trust levels are usually low. This is because office politicians are perceived as willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want, and this can include deception, threats, attack and a myriad of other undesirable activities.
Office politicians are perceived as having no qualms about taking aggressive steps to achieve their personal goals, they are willing to sacrifice relationships in order to achieve this, using competitive tactics that divide instead of unite.
When divisive action is taken by office politicians, they are taking deliberate action to erode trust in those they consider their competitors or even potential competitors. Office politicians divide by casting aspersions, or promoting persons who are incompetent or loyal. Whatever the tactic, divisive action leads to, and sustains low trust because there are at least two groups that exist in the midst of a divided team. The ones who possess power and know it, and those who possess power and do not recognize it.
While you can trust persons to be or do almost anything, trust in a freedom culture is a consequence of consistent, integrity based behaviour. It is evidenced when what you say as a leader, aligns with what you do. Trusting environments are characterized by freedom to speak up when there are dissenting views, and mutual respect. When there is trust, your coworkers feel valued. This is because egos are not allowed to disfigure attempts to build a healthy culture.
The trust code is a standard of behaviour motivated by the desire to build healthy relationships through integrity. Here are 6 tips managers and executives can use to set the stage for a climate of trust:
- Competence. When I suggest competence as a tip I am referring to technical and behavioural competencies. From a technical standpoint, when a leader is not familiar with the technical aspects of her role it is clear to her coworkers that this is the case. How can employees trust someone who doesn’t even understand their own job description? In many organizations it is not expected the leader should be intimately aware of all the duties of each role within the department they lead but the leader should be competent enough to know the inner workings of their department and how different roles are interdependent upon each other both within and outside the department. When leaders are emotionally incompetent they tend to expose coworkers to emotional outbursts, and they make sub-standard decisions that are influenced by emotion. They can blame and as previously stated, accept credit for work done by others. Their lack of emotional self-awareness leads to fear within their teams and fear is directly linked to the disintegration of trust.
- Consistence lends itself to predictability. Predictability can be a trust building tool or one that demolishes trust. On one hand, when persons are predictably moody or unwilling or unable to discern their own inappropriate behaviours, trust is weakened. When predictability is associated with providing fair recognition and appreciation, offering equitable treatment and making decisions that carefully weigh alternatives, this form of consistence is more likely to build trust.
- Integrity can have many different meanings. It can refer to walking your talk, it can refer to honesty and credibility. Integrity can also be associated with your capacity to operate in a way that is perceived by others as confidential. No-one wants to trust their delicate, personal information with someone they perceive to be indiscreet. This is because reckless transmission of private or personal information can make persons vulnerable to attack and other atrocities.
- Empathy refers to your ability to connect with others. When trust building is your goal, the ability to connect is heart centered and nonjudgmental. It refers to your ability to experience what others are experiencing. Empathy helps persons who use it for the good of the team to build valuable communication skills that cause coworkers to feel listened to and valued. Empathy can be merciful, or it can be tough. It has nothing to do with being a push-over, because being a push-over is a sub-optimal behaviour driven by fear. Instead, empathy is both an empowered and empowering behaviour when used to serve. Persons who are empathetic can go in at least two different directions. There are those who use their ability to connect with others to destabilize others. They manipulate situations with one objective in mind, to diminish those who are considered to be “their competition”. This is not an uplifting exercise and therefore has no place in a strategy for creating trust. Alternatively, empathy can deepen connections, build healthy commitment and trust. Empathy can also be defined as the ability to care about others as much as you care about yourself. When empathy is coupled with a team building mentality, you are able to shift your perspective from self-preservation, and self-promotion to team-preservation and promotion.
- Transparence refers to the ability of leaders to share the right information at the right time. They know that sharing confidential information can do more damage than good so they understand what they can say without hurting or defaming others. Also, depending on your jurisdiction, the law can be very clear about what can be shared and what cannot. For example Freedom of information laws specifically spell out what can be shared. In organizations where transparence exists, information is carefully formulated into messages suitable for all levels within the organization. Time is taken to develop internal communication strategies to ensure messages are effectively disseminated. This not only means ensuring a well-crafted, credible message, it also means sharing the same information with sufficient frequency.
- Use your power responsibly As a leader, this means you should not abuse your power. You should understand it and harness it in a way that builds the entire team. Whether it is expert power, relationship power, blocking power, position power or any other type of power, it should be used for the good of the team. Not personal agendas. When it comes to power, despite the knowledge of how to treat coworkers appropriately, persons tend to replicate the power dynamics they know. It appears to be an unconscious habit that is based on perpetual reinforcement of the ideas that competition, division and separation are necessary. It takes time to challenge and modify this mindset.
These tips are designed to build a code of trust. Like the code of silence where silence is used to protect a secret, the code of trust is a collection of behaviours that protect and sustain trust. Unlike the code of silence, the code of trust is based on transparence and serving the greater good.
Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. If you are interested in exploring how you can strengthen your leadership competencies using emotional intelligence or the leadership and employee engagement within your organization, you can visit www.yvettebethel.com