This week I am helping to host a group of students who are visiting from Thailand. They want to learn about US culture and practice their English skills.
I invited the students to visit my office in St. Paul. When I put out a call to my colleagues, several people stepped forward to give office tours. One of our administrative assistants put together bags of Minnesota State branded items for them to take home. Other people stopped to give a friendly welcome. The students had a great time.
Even though it wasn’t directly related to anyone’s job duties, I knew that I could count on my co-workers. We have created the sort of collaborative climate where we value providing good service to each other. Whether it’s an above-and-beyond event, or routine tasks like providing data or supporting someone’s project, we want to help each other succeed.
Our HR leadership team has worked hard to create this climate. They hold us accountable for collaboration and encourage cross-unit activities. Another practical thing that helps is our collaborative office space. We had an opportunity a couple of years ago to re-arrange the office and included a community gathering space. Rather than enter into a maze of cubicles, staff and visitors enter into a space with tables and a white board. Fairly often someone will bring in treats or start some sort of discussion on the board. A few months ago someone brought in several flavors of Oreo cookies and a pitcher of milk. We all voted on our favorite flavor. (The traditional cookies won.)
The gathering space is a fairly simple idea and it has made a difference in building a unified team across divisions. And knowing our colleagues better has helped us provide better service to each other. What have you done to promote collaboration among your team?
Dee Anne Bonebright
The stressed-out demanding coworker, the skeptical regulatory agent, the overwhelmed student, the sick and crabby patient, the distracted team member, or the busy boss – what do these people all have in common? They are someone’s customer!
When I worked in health care we always had to stop and remind ourselves that the reason our customers (patients and their families) were acting stressed, confused, and unhappy was because they were sick or their family members were sick! Customer service can be easy when everyone is on their best behavior and interacting in a highly professional manner, but that isn’t reality. Leaders need to be able to listen and respond with respect even when people are being “difficult.”
Author Paul Meshanko in his book, The Respect Effect, highlights 12 Rules of Respect that can help you establish respect with your customers even in difficult situations. These rules are based on behaviors that have been shown to neurologically enhance human interactions even in stressful situations.
- Be aware of your nonverbal cues – are your behaviors supporting your desired message?
- Develop a curiosity about the perspective of others – actively demonstrate that you are interested in what or why or how others are feeling or thinking.
- Assume that everyone is smart about something – give people the benefit of the doubt.
- Become a better listener by shaking your “but” – using the word but dismisses anything said previously even if that isn’t what you mean.
- Look for opportunities to connect and support others – identify areas of agreement while acknowledging areas of difference.
- When you disagree, explain why – provide information that clarifies how you made a decision.
- Look for opportunities to grow, stretch and change – remind yourself that nothing is static and each of us has something new to learn.
- Learn to be wrong on occasion – consider other points of view, even when your idea will work, and demonstrate to others that it is ok to make a mistake at times.
- Never hesitate to say you are sorry – acknowledge when you have not been respectful. It happens!
- Intentionally engage others in ways that build their self-esteem – intentionally interact in ways that recognize the value others have.
- Be respectful of time – remember that other people have time commitments that you are not aware of, and they are important to them.
- Smile! – last but definitely not least. Even in difficult situations look for opportunities to recognize connection or forward movement with a genuine smile.
Customer interactions can be messy. Demonstrating respect gives you the foundation to move forward.
Today, on Memorial Day, as we honor our military men and women who have served and died for our country, I thought it might be apropos to share the 3 C’s of trust published by naval academy graduate and helicopter pilot Philip Gift in The Military Leader.
Gift says that building trust boils down to three fundamentals: 1) Competence; 2) Caring; and 3) Communication. Here are a few insights that he shares about the 3 C’s:
- If people are not competent, then no matter what is promised, they will not be able to deliver.
- If people don’t care about the other members of the workforce, then there is no guarantee that they will keep their word when a better deal arises.
- No matter how competent people are or how much they care, if they cannot communicate that information to other people, then trust will never grow.
Given the importance of competence, care, and communication in building trust, here are some questions for you to consider about your own leadership.
Competence: Are you competent in the job you currently hold? Do you understand your leadership role and your impact on others? What steps can you take to improve your effectiveness as a leader?
Caring: Do you care about your organization and the people who report to you? What do you do specifically to demonstrate that care? Do you listen to your employees and take time to learn more about them as whole people? How do you support them with the necessary tools and resources to accomplish their jobs? What growth opportunities can you give them?
Communication: How well do you communicate your ideas and decisions? Do you find that people understand what you are trying to convey? What do you do to ensure effective two-way communication? When do you opt for face-to-face meetings, email, memos, phone and online meetings? Do your communication strategies and modes seem to work well? What can you do to improve your communications?
While I work hard to demonstrate caring with my team members, when I’m overloaded, it sometimes falls by the wayside. The last couple of months have been so frenetic, that I haven’t had much time to check in with each staff member individually to see how things are going. This week I’m going take extra time to do just that.
In the next week, I challenge you to take one of the 3 C’s and see how you can work to enhance trust with your team as well.
I recently had a chance to attend a Talent Development conference and came away with lots of good ideas. It reminded me that professional development helps people stay engaged and excited about their work.
One session highlighted the importance of trust in the workplace. Judith Katz and Fredrick Miller talked about the difference between a “judging” mindset and a “joining” mindset.
A judging culture includes win/lose and problem-finding behaviors. People hold onto the past, act defensive, and withhold trust. They tend to think small and contribute less. A joining culture is accepting, exploring, and focuses on problem-solving. People can let go of the past and extend trust. They are able to think big and contribute more.
The presenters said that judging is our individual and organizational default, especially in times of stress, fear, and conflict. When we feel uncertain, our cognitive biases are more likely to kick in, which can lead to making judgments about others.
Here are four strategies we can use to generate a joining culture:
- Lean into discomfort: speak up and be willing to challenge yourself and others.
- Listen as an ally.
- State your intent and how strongly you feel about the issue.
- Accept that others’ thoughts and experiences are true for them.
Years ago when I was a new supervisor I learned a good lesson about joining. One of my employees had performance issues, and looking back I think my coaching style made her feel judged. It was going down a bad path until life circumstances caused us to listen to each other as allies around a shared experience we were both going through. Making that personal connection helped the work conversations go more smoothly, and I think it was about building trust.
You can view the presentation slide deck here. What ideas strike you about creating a culture of joining instead of judging?
Dee Anne Bonebright
Want to build trusting relationships fast? Start with assuming good intent! According to Stephen M.R. Covey and Greg Link, when people in one part of an organization are asked to interface with another part, they often start with assumptions of negative intent such as:
- “Is there a hidden agenda?”
- “What is her real motive?”
- “Is he trying to position himself or his team to get more, so we’ll get less?”
Sound familiar? At times, I’m sure we’ve all had those assumptions of others that we need to work with. However, in their book Smart Trust, Link and Covey say, “…the best leaders, the best teams, the best companies start from that promise [of assuming good intent] and doing so creates the very behavior they’re seeking.”
Doing otherwise and assuming negative intent can be a self-fulfilling prophecy and create the very behavior that is feared. Think about it. Our assumptions are pretty powerful and influence how we behave AND the behaviors we elicit from others.
I had a recent experience where a partnering organization made an accounting error that negatively impacted the budget of a professional board that I serve. While leaders in the organization did acknowledge the error, they did not offer to remedy it immediately. In fact, they indicated that it would be a hardship to do so. Assuming negative intent could have easily devolved into a very combative situation that could threaten both the partnership and the sustainability of the professional board. I’m glad to say that the board members and I worked hard to assume good intent and offered up several options for resolving the issue. That good will perpetuated a much better response. I have now heard from the leaders that they are working on the issue and want to pursue a mutually satisfying resolution.
Thinking about your own experience, here are some questions from Covey and Link for you to consider:
- Have you ever assumed negative motives on the part of someone else?
- Have you ever been surprised to discover that your assumptions might have been wrong?
- What has been your experience in working with others when people assumed good intent on the part of others? What was your experience when they didn’t?
While it is important to accurately assess situations or relationships where it may be smart not to assume good intent, Covey and Link argue that in most cases, assuming good intent with coworkers, teams, organizations, partners, suppliers, spouses, children and others is a more productive, positive, and prosperous place to start.
“There are no trust neutral interactions… you either build trust or lose trust.” I can’t remember the name of the person who said this at a conference I attended almost 20 years ago, but I can tell you the saying has stuck with me.
I’ve found that I can walk away from each meeting or conversation I have with others and use the simple measuring stick: Did I build trust? Or did I lose trust?
Still, building trust is not always simple. For example, it can be challenging to focus on building trust when confronting an individual or group about a difficult issue. Add to that an emotionally charged discussion and your amygdala can be hijacked, sending out warning signals to protect yourself and shutting down the ability of your pre-frontal cortex to think constructively.
In those situations, it begs the questions: how do you have healthy conversations when you feel pushed to the edge? And more importantly, how do we deal with others to build relationships rather than erode them?
In her book, Conversational Intelligence, Judith Glaser shares how she has coached leaders to build trust by moving from an I-centric to WE-centric focus in her TRUST model below. Her approach integrates how each step impacts our brains in creating safety and allowing the pre-frontal cortex to engage in greater candor, cooperation, and collaboration.
T – Transparency – create transparency which signals “safety” to the amygdala
- I-centric: secrecy, threats, lack of clarity, lack of alignment
- WE-centric: openness, sharing of threats, intentions, aspirations, and objectives; movement toward establishing common, aligned objectives
R- Relationships – focus on connecting with others first, which signals “friend” not “foe”
- I-centric: rejection, resistance, retribution, adversarial relationships, suspicion
- WE-centric: respect, rapport, caring, candor, nonjudgmental listening to deeply connect and build partnership
U – Understanding – see the world from another’s eyes, enhancing bonding and a feeling that “we’re all in this together”
- I-centric: uncertainty, focus on tasks, unrealistic expectations, disappointment, judgment
- WE-centric: understanding, ability to stand in each other’s shoes, empathy for others’ context, seeing another perspective of reality, partnership; support
S – Shared Success – create a shared view of mutual success. Put words and pictures to what success looks like and signaling to the pre-frontal cortex that it’s safe to open up
- I-centric: promotion of self-interest; focus on “I” and “me”; seeking of personal recognition and reward
- WE-centric: bonding with others to create a vision of shared success; building a shared vision that holds space for mutual success; pursuit of shared interests and celebration of shared successes
T- Truth telling and testing assumptions – use candor and caring to build and expand trust
- I-centric: reactions of anger, anxiety, withdrawal, resignation
- WE-centric: regular, open, and nonjudgmental discussion of assumptions and disappointments as part of collaborative problem solving; identification of “reality gaps” and effort to close the gaps for mutual success; willingness to start over again if distrust emerges
Here’s my leadership challenge to you for today: Think about an upcoming difficult meeting or conversation that you are anticipating. How can you apply some of the WE-centric ideas above to your approach?
Predictability is a core foundation of trust. In fact it is a requirement if you want people to trust you. And in the world of work it is often where you, as a leader, have the best opportunity to earn the trust of the people you work with.
The Oxford Dictionary defines trust as “the firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone.” Or in my words, can you count on someone! Certainly being honest and having skills is important but what people are watching is your behavior. Do they have confidence in what you will do or say next – based on what you have done and said in the past.
Roger Fisher and Scott Brown in their book, Getting Together, highlight that personal predictability is the one constant that can maintain trust, even in complex and uncertain work environments. So how do leaders demonstrate predictability? You certainly can’t make guarantees and you can’t predict the future with 100% certainty but you can take the following actions:
- Don’t over commit. Carefully examine what what you are committing to do. Following through on a commitment is more important than making a large number of commitments.
- Document or note your commitments. In the chaos of leadership it is easy to lose track of statements you have made to people.
- Take time to review your commitments. It is easy to get distracted or to move on to your next task. Taking the time to review commitments and purposely finishing them makes you trustworthy to others.
- Provide updates. Let others know the behind the scenes progress you are making or share the reasons that priorities have changed. Don’t be a black hole.
There are few guarantees in the world but demonstrating that you can be counted on helps your people say, “Yes, I trust you!”