By Marvin Marshall, Ed.D.
Any positive working relationship is based on trust. An environment of trust assumes that both parties will be safe, and it carries with it an implicit message that you have each other's best interests in mind. That is why employees can accept criticism and even anger from a boss they trust. The employees know deep down that the boss really means to help.
Trust is an interesting quality because, once it is lost, it is hard to recapture. Many professional relationships gasped their last breath with the words "I just do not trust you anymore." Therefore, to have optimum working relationships, all parties must feel a sense of trust.
The question then is, How do you develop trust between people in the workplace? After all, when you have people from various backgrounds coming to work together, they usually don't have a history with each other, and there's no base of trust to begin with and grow upon. That is the reason managers need to be proactive and create an environment of trust apparent to all. Following are ways to do that.
To ensure that employees will make good decisions, managers often begin to lecture. If you reflect on this, you will soon realize that lecturing and telling your employees what to do implies that you do not have faith in their decision-making abilities. This can result in their becoming defensive. In addition, the employees can lose faith in their own confidence to make decisions. If people do not have faith in themselves, then the manager's faith in them decreases even more, and the lecturing begins again.
Even well-intentioned lectures convey the subtle, negative message that what the employee has done is wrong or not good enough. This often results in defensiveness and resistance. All people are sensitive about being told what to do, and they often want to prove themselves in the workplace. Telling robs workers of the satisfaction of their using initiative. So rather than lecture employees, consider using reflective questions, such as, "What do you think about . . . ?" "Have you thought of ...?" and "Would you consider...?"
Listen to Learn
Epictetus is credited with the statement: "Man has one tongue but two ears that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak."
Listening to learn and valuing people's feelings and ideas is what promotes the ability of managers to effectively communicate with and influence their staff. Listen to learn means not inserting your opinion and not judging what the person says while he or she is speaking. For most managers, their first reaction is to evaluate the employee from their own point of view and then approve or disapprove of what the person says. This is listening autobiographically. It shuts down the employee's self-confidence, initiative, and open communication. An easy strategy for replacing this tendency of listening autobiographically is to cultivate the habit of listening to learn.
Listening is a skill that can be improved. It starts by taking the position of a good listener. It's getting ready to hear what is about to be said. It is refraining from the all-too-common practice of hearing a few words and then jumping in with a response. You may have experienced the feeling that arose when someone finished your sentence before you had finished it yourself. The feeling is not a positive one! When a manager interrupts an employee who is attempting to communicate, it prompts a negative emotion. No one enjoys being interrupted when trying to make a point.
Listening in anticipation of what an employee will say is another habit to break. Listening in anticipation encourages interruptions. All people want to be acknowledged and don't wish to feel that you know what is about to be said. Interrupting is an indication that you don't care about hearing the other person's viewpoint as much as your own.
A manager who listens well acknowledges their employees' feelings and opinions. Yes, "zipping the lip" is extremely difficult for most managers, but it is the surest way to improve communication and build trust. Remember, no great insight ever enters the mind through an open mouth. It is important to let people know that you are willing to listen, even though it may not result in agreement. A simple "Talk to me about it" is an effective start to dialogue. Just use the most effective sales principle: Inquiry precedes advocacy. In other words, listen before you talk. When you feel a temptation to interrupt, redirect that impulse by thinking of the following question:
"Will I be more effective if I listen first?"
Many people often say, "If I want something done right I have to do it myself." Yet effective managers know that delegation of tasks is essential for building trust in the workplace. When you hold onto tasks and don't delegate, you deprive your employees of an opportunity to advance their skills. Accept the fact that growth comes through struggle. Babying your employees hinders their professional development and implies that you don't have faith in them. Focus on treating your staff as if they are who, how, and what you would like them to be. Treating people as if they are responsible and empowered increases their chances of becoming so.
Once the employee completes a task, the objective should be to focus on progress rather than on perfection. If the person's result does not meet your expectations, you can still find something positive to comment on while helping the employee understand what the initial expectations are. This is far more effective than comments that foster guilt or a sense of failure. A positive approach prompts an incentive for the task-in contrast to criticizing, which provides a disincentive.
Remember: there isn't any empowerment more effective than self-empowerment.
Because being positive is so enabling, it is best to displace thoughts and communications that are destructive. Continually ask yourself how what you want to communicate can be put in a positive way. For example, saying, "You are bad tempered," has the same meaning as, "You need to work on controlling your temper." However, the first labels the person, whereas the second enables the person. People change more by building on their strengths and aptitudes than by working on their weaknesses. This does not mean that an area of weakness should not be worked on, but it does mean that a manager's emphasis should be on what the employee can do, rather than on what the employee cannot do. The simple belief that something can be done is the spark that ignites the brain to act.
Create a Trusting Environment
Without trust in the workplace, communication and teamwork will erode.
Additionally, morale will decrease while turnover will rise. However, by using these three strategies you can build your employees' trust in management, thereby making their workplace an environment filled with innovation, creativity, and ultimately higher profits for all.
Marvin Marshall, Ph.D., educator, writer and lecturer is widely known for his programs on discipline and learning. His approach stemmed from his acquiring knowledge about youth as a parent; a recreation director and camp counselor; a classroom teacher; a school counselor; an elementary and high school principal; district director of education; and as a certificate holder from the William Glasser Institute. More information is available at www.marvinmarshall.com.
By Marvin Marshall, Ed.D.