The High Costs of Mistrust

In my Building Trust Workshops, I often ask participants to identify the consequences of mistrust and unresolved conflict. They typically have no trouble coming up with a list similar to this one:
  • Stress, stress, stress!
  • Wasted time
  • Reduced productivity
  • Poor customer service
  • Suffering relationships
  • Poor decisions
  • Lawsuits
  • Loss of customers
  • Absenteeism / Health costs
  • Unnecessary & costly employee turnover

In this new blog series, let’s tackle these sources of continuing cost and trouble one at a time.

Stress

Mistrust in the workplace causes us to act in ways that protect ourselves, many of them unconscious. We don’t feel safe, either because we fear how the other person will react to things or how we might do so. As with any danger, natural instincts compel us to avoid the situation or person. We avoid dark alleys for a reason.

When the danger is another person, the effect is compounded. Our mistrust of them often colors our experience. Even otherwise benign behaviors on their part can be interpreted harshly, as we ascribe questionable motives to them. We convince ourselves with more ‘evidence’ of the rightness of our caution, and the strain between us grows.

Finally, since we ourselves feel pressure to be a team player at the workplace, we often do our best to hide these feelings and misgivings. A mask of diplomacy settles on our face to cover the turmoil within.

It’s like a child trying to keep a beach ball under water; as waves come ashore, he fights to keep it submerged. The child quickly tires of the game, but we adults often feel trapped to repeat our charade of normalcy on a daily basis. The result is perpetual stress – and all the consequences that come with it.

Wasted Time

When we work with people we trust, things go swiftly and smoothly. Not that every day is free from trouble, of course, but when trouble does arrive the trusting parties can dispense with formalities, jump in and solve the problem in a united way. In so doing, both people share in the victory and reinforce mutual trustworthiness along the way.

When trust is absent, the opposite holds true. Instead of rallying together, team members begin a dance like wrestlers circling a mat. They tend to pull in supervisors and managers to resolve the issue, often slowing down the process significantly as their bosses come up to speed. Plus, once department heads get involved, the issue can migrate away from its core, becoming politicized. The opportunity to develop trust at the base level vaporizes.

Trust allows freedom to act without looking over one’s shoulder. People are able to act quickly, independently, and with confidence that others have their backs. Mistrust gunks up the works.

Reduced Productivity

In addition to the points made above, we must face another major trust-based outcome: motivation. Aside from purely altruistic intentions, we are the most motivated when what we do has direct influence over own future well-being. When I truly believe that the team I’m on is invested in my personal success then I am motivated to help them win.

As any parent of a teenager knows, motivation to accomplish an objective (for example, cleaning a bedroom) is a prime determinant of the speed and discipline at which the task is accomplished. But we need not look to our kids for proof of this. Witness our waistlines, retirement balances, or to-do-someday lists.

When it comes to the workplace, the absence of trust can erode the motivation of even the most gung-ho of us. Why work hard to achieve the goals of an organization we don’t fully trust? Why go the extra mile and help out a struggling coworker? For that matter, if we get paid independently of our effort, we may suppose the minimum allowable is a reasonable target.

Plus, when we’re our consuming energy keeping our beach balls submerged, there is often little left for high productivity.

We need to ask ourselves a tough question at this point. Why are we willing to pay these costs (and the others that follow in this series)? Is our conflict avoidance worth it?

Bruce loves to help people overcome challenges, particularly in leadership, interpersonal relationships and trust. He’s a noted speaker, author, active church member and community volunteer. Bruce’s day job has been to lead RBB since 2001, becoming Owner in 2007.

Bruce is blessed to share his life with his wife Donna and their three wonderful children: daughters Kelly and Kara, and son Kirk. As time permits he enjoys golf, writing and learning how to live in the country.

Looking for skills you can use right now to improve relationships, both business and personal? Or how to use powerful and practical tools to improve trust with others? If so, sign up for the next Building Trust workshop on August 6th and 7th–only a few seats left!

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