Busy professionals challenge me about why they should spend their limited time in my Building Trust Workshops. It’s a fair question. In Part One of this blog series, we explored three expensive costs of mistrust. Now we are going to tackle three more troublesome consequences of mistrust and unresolved conflict.
Every organization exists to serve its customers. Legions of books and articles are written on this topic, yet few insert the issue of trust into the conversation. My take is this: truly exceptional customer service lives at the edge of official policy. And only when trust is felt on a personal level do those who take care of customers step out on this limb.
Someone at your company is faced with an opportunity to make a customer happy. Their first thought often determines the level of service they will deliver – and it’s a direct reflection of your environment’s level of trust.
If they think, “Where can I hide?” then they don’t trust much of anything. Instead, if their first thought is, “I’d like to help but our policy is in the way” then they primarily trust the structures and policies. But if they go to, “I can decide to make this person’s day!” then they likely trust themselves, others, and the firm.
In this way, customers can feel the level of trust that exists at your place of business.
As an example, let’s look at chain restaurant servers. There are some great ones and some poor ones, and most fall somewhere in the middle. The industry experiences very high employee turnover, consequently management extends little trust. Hence the tightly-scripted customer experience, from the overly friendly welcome to the mentioning of dessert before the check.
Compare this with your favorite fine dining establishment. These servers are much more likely to create a personal experience, real rapport, and individual accommodation. In short, they create a truly memorable encounter. They have the freedom to go off-script whenever they gauge it appropriate and are rewarded, not penalized, when doing so. In a very tangible way, more trust translates into better customer service – and more revenue.
Abraham Maslow, in his familiar hierarchy of needs, describes the search for meaningful relationships as being central to our well-being as people. Whether individuals are highly social or only marginally so, our need to belong is intense. One of the hallmarks of the absence of trust is that it creates in us a pervasive sense of isolation.
Okay, but what then? Isolation often reaches into areas of life that are well beyond the individual or group that caused the initial perceived injury. It can lead to depression, lack of confidence, short-temperedness and a withdrawal from any sort of risk.
I remember vividly a situation where I was fired, although I believed I had been doing a good job. Evidently the company felt otherwise. As my job search encountered difficulty, I began to take the betrayal I felt at my last job and cast it upon others. I felt rudderless and alone for the six months it took me to find my next assignment. By then I had become moody and defensive with those around me – those that had nothing to do with my struggles at the time.
Where trust fails at work we see the same effects. Historically cheerful people show signs of strain and irritability. Their isolation exacerbates other fears and uncertainties; they tend to make mountains out of molehills. We may even counsel them on their unwelcome behavior, but the root cause – the lack of trust with a person or the company – often goes undiagnosed. Unless the core issue gets addressed, the person will either a) continue to resemble “Pig-Pen” from the comic strip Peanuts (buried in a persistent dirt cloud) until they are dismissed, or b) fake it and attempt another beach ball. Either way the price in damaged relationships is extreme.
A perfectly good process improvement game plan goes awry. The besieged manager is hit with that eminently late and now useless comment, “I could’ve told you it would never work.” This is the epitome of a foxhole environment caused by a lack of mutual trust: people withhold their vital information. Had the employee expressed her misgivings earlier, perhaps the project could have succeeded. That’s one.
Here’s two: decision makers who trust their colleagues and advisors feel safe. This safety allows them to relax, think things through, and make composed decisions. People who don’t trust – or have the trust of – those around them often make their decisions under significant pressure. The monkey is on their own back so they share less, ask fewer questions of their teammates, tend to dismiss valuable insights as nay-saying, and take more solo chances. Eventually their luck runs out and they are held accountable for a high risk decision that went south. Do they blame themselves? Sometimes. But the damage from a poor decision is already done.
The issues discussed in this series often hide in plain sight: only when we look do we find them. Often the core issue of mistrust is not considered… so we treat the symptoms via performance reviews, disciplinary actions, and customer complaints. By learning to build trust up, down and sideways we can make a lot of these other costs disappear!
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