How Managers Can Increase Trust and Reduce Workplace Drama

marlenechismContributed by Marlene Chism, author of Stop Workplace Drama

Your staff sits at your meeting with arms crossed and mouths closed. You have invited engagement, but you get nothing. You can’t put your finger on it, but you perceive some negativity. Maybe it’s resentment. Maybe it’s just a manifestation of the “us versus them” mentality. Or maybe, it’s a lack of trust. This article offers four trustbusters and the four antidotes.

Trustbuster #1 Poor Listening
Very few of us admit to being a poor listener, therefore as the saying goes, you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge. Awareness is the key, so here are the signs of poor listening: Broken promises, multi-tasking while an employee is talking to you, interrupting, discounting, and one way communication which includes preaching, or the opposite–failure to ask questions in a conversation.

Antidote to Poor Listening
When an employee (or anyone else for that matter) speaks to you, become fully present, and use eye contact. Ask a question to clarify that you understand what is being communicated. Acknowledge the other person’s experience. If you say you will do something, schedule it in your calendar, and communicate back to the person when you have completed your agreement. If an employee catches you at a bad time, let them know you have other pressing priorities and set an appointment where you can be present

Trustbuster #2 Lack of Respect
Believe it or not, people can sense how you feel about them. The heart emits an electromagnetic field that can be felt within a 10 foot perimeter. In addition, your behaviors eventually betray your real feelings. Disrespecting behaviors include eye-rolling, blaming, discounting, or embarrassing someone in public to make your point. In other words, your attitudes and behaviors are either a barrier to trust or a bridge to trust.

Antidote to Lack of Respect
Change the way you view your employees. View each one of them as important and worthy of your highest and best attributes. Would you treat your best friend or your best client the way you treat your employees? Right actions will naturally follow when your intention is in the right place. Perfect your communication skills to communicate wise intentions.

For example instead of going on a rampage about what someone did wrong, simply ask for what you want. Skip the drama and you’ll save a lot of time. A simple, “I need you to get all your folders and files put away and your computer turned off before you go to lunch,” is better than going on a rampage about being messy and wasting electricity. Never raise your voice, and when you correct behavior, do so in private, and when you are centered emotionally. In a nutshell, make your intention about growth rather than about punishment and your communication will naturally evolve to reflect your mindset.

Trustbuster #3 Secrecy
During change managers and executives often keep information behind closed doors because they don’t want the rumor mill to erupt. However, this tactic often backfires and contributes to drama. Our human brains are wired to look for threats and when a change is on the horizon there is always the perceived thread of job loss, increased workloads and loss of status. This fear results in backstabbing, projection, unnecessary competition, and even lying.

Antidote to Secrecy
Tell them as much as possible. Keep employees updated every week as to what is coming down the pipes. Don’t try to hide the fact that change is coming: they can smell it. Hold a short meeting to admit that change is coming and let them know what areas will be impacted. Ask for their patience and cooperation and let them know how often, and in what manner you will give status updates. When possible, ask for their ideas, do surveys, and interviews to get their inside viewpoints and ideas. Report back to them when you have implemented one of their ideas and this will increase the sense of security even in times of change.

Trustbuster #4 Inconsistency
Changing direction in mid course, with no explanation makes employees suspicious. Front line employees call this phenomenon “flavor of the month.” Employees often feel like guinea pigs of the latest management fad. They have already experienced quality circles, management by walking around, and total quality management, and if there was no follow through or completion on these new initiatives, they are less likely to buy in to the current flavor of the month. In addition, your staff will eventually lose motivation if they never experience a sense of completion.

Antidote to Inconsistency
In my book Stop Workplace Drama, I call this process “shortening the gap.” The gap is the distance between where you are and your final result. The executive team sets the vision and goals and the managers get the employees all rowing to that island, so to speak. The way to keep employees engaged and in a trustworthy state of mind is to shorten that gap. Submit a trial period for any new program with the condition that it will be revisited in three months, (or whatever the trial period is.) That way as new information comes in, management can adjust as needed and can report back to the employees that the trial period is over and a new decision has been made. This gives a sense of completion and increases cooperation and trust.

As you can see, building and maintaining trust is more than a communication skill, it is also a relationship building skill. If you want to build your organization on trust, you must provide a sense of safety and transparency. In addition you must build structures that allow you to communicate and honor your commitments.

Marlene Chism is a speaker, author and founder of The Stop Your Drama Methodology, an eight-part empowerment process to increase clarity and improve productivity and personal effectiveness. She is a dynamic business and motivational speaker who has the unique ability to speak across the boundaries of many types of audiences: from the fortune 500 executives, to HR professionals to front line employees. Marlene has a master’s degree in HR Development from Webster University and is the author of Stop Workplace Drama.