Avoid 3 trust busters to boost morale and retention

A culture of confidence in workplace leaders comes down to consistency, promise-keeping and attentive listening. Follow this guidance on breaking detrimental institutional habits.

Building trust at work

Perhaps one of the greatest staff retention practices in today’s fast-paced environment is creating a culture of high trust.

When employees trust their boss, productivity increases and retention remains stable.

Stephen R.M. Covey, author of “The Speed of Trust,” says it best:

When trust is low, in a company or in a relationship, it places a hidden “tax” on every transaction: every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision is taxed, bringing speed down and sending costs up. My experience is that significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done.

Covey stresses the two primary components of trust building—character and competence:

Character includes your integrity, motive, and intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, skills, results, and track record.

Within the competencies and skills category, assuming the character and integrity is intact, let’s look at three trust busters with easy remedies—trust builders—to significantly increase trust in your department, your teams and, indeed, your workplace culture.

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Trust buster No. 1: Inconsistency

Inconsistencies can happen in almost any area of a business. For example, the outdated policies don’t align with the realities of the current state of the business or with processes that have yet to be defined. Another area of inconsistency is in leaders’ behavior. When the boss has uncontrollable fits of anger, employees don’t know what to expect and are often afraid to speak up when speaking up is necessary.

Why consistency is important: In times of uncertainty, the brain registers uncertainty as a threat. In today’s world of speed and uncertainty, dialing up the certainty gives your organization a competitive advantage. Consistency is the key to successfully managing in uncertain times.

Trust builders to increase consistency

  • Update policies to match today’s reality.
  • Document and update processes.
  • Schedule conversations to introduce changes and updates.
  • Hire only those leaders who are high in emotional IQ and communication skills.
  • Hire and discipline employees based on stated values.

Trust buster No. 2: Broken promises

The easiest trap for new managers to fall into is making broken promises. Statements like, “Great idea; I’ll get back to you,” almost always backfires. Sometimes change happens due to outside circumstances, such as new legislation, political agendas or environmental issues. There will be times when you simply can’t keep a promise. In such rare circumstances, communicate changes so you don’t unintentionally create a lapse of trust due to the perception of broken promises.

Why keeping promises is important: Keeping promises or updating employees when an unexpected change occurs helps employees feel secure. They perceive that what you say goes. This gives them the freed-up energy to move forward with confidence. If they perceive that what you say is the “flavor of the month,” they simply won’t put their heart and soul into their work. They will procrastinate and wait for the change they think is coming.

Trust builders to increase promise-keeping

  • Schedule all agreements. Even statements like, “I’ll get back with you,” requires a date on the calendar.
  • Set realistic expectations on new ideas. For example, initiate a pilot program to test new ideas so there’s an ending place if the idea doesn’t work.
  • Update employees when changes prevent follow-through.
  • Apologize when you dropped a ball or didn’t follow through on a previous promise. If this is a habit for you, check to see whether there is a skills deficit or a process problem, such as documenting or scheduling agreements on a calendar.
  • Let your “yes” and “no” mean something. Stop saying “yes” just to end conversations.

Trust buster No. 3: Poor listening

Listening takes a lot of energy. You have to distill the relevant from the irrelevant; many employees aren’t great at getting to the point. It’s easy to get hypnotized by the story and start multitasking, discounting or nodding in agreement. If you’re on a phone call or conference call, it’s tempting to check email or start working on something else the moment you feel bored. It’s even more difficult to listen when the stakes are high—when you disagree or feel angry. This is when it’s most important to do what I call “Radical Listening.”

Why listening is important: There’s an old saying, “When I talk, I know what I know, but when I listen, I know what I know, and I know what you know.” In difficult conversations, it’s easy to try to shut down or argue than to really listen. But winning an argument rarely wins you more trust. When you aren’t really listening, it’s easy to make agreements you aren’t really prepared to keep, and it’s likely you’ll miss something important that could eventually erode trust. In addition, you may miss the meta-message and other subtle cues that could be detrimental to your decision-making.

Trust builders to increase listening

  • Stop interrupting. Hold your tongue at the roof of your mouth. It’s easier for the other person to hear you once they feel they have been heard.
  • Do not multitask. Stop checking electronic communications. If you can’t focus at that moment, say so honestly; then schedule a time when the other person has your undivided attention.
  • Ask questions for clarification when you don’t agree or don’t understand.
  • Notice how much time you are lecturing, preaching or talking versus just listening. Invite conversation by asking questions if you notice that you’ve been taking up too much airtime.
  • If your mind wanders, admit it. Say: “I got distracted. Could you repeat that?”

A version of this post first ran on Culture University.


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