Focus on Relationships

Posted on 28 November 2020

Does your behavior foster or limit trust?

“Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great.”— Ralph Waldo Emerson

All of life is lived in relationship—even life at work. That’s why the most critical building block of any team is trust. Without trust, teams are disparate collections of individuals and groups; and the element that creates or erodes trust—and thus builds or destroys teams—is your individual behavior as a leader. Trust can support teams to go the extra mile, work for the greater good of the team and the organization, foster open and honest communication and engender mutual respect and support. Distrust often stems from a ‘me first’ mind-set that leads to conflict, egoism, and a going-through-the-motions attitude.

The statement, “There is no ‘I’ in team” may be trite and worn, yet it’s a fact of life at work. When trust is lacking among team members, they spend inordinate amounts of time and energy resisting others’ behaviors, reacting to others’ disingenuousness, playing politics and generally feeling reluctant to ask for, or give, support.

How might you be contributing to mistrust on your team?

In a culture characterized by mistrust, relationships quickly suffer. When relationships suffer, performance, production and profits decline just as rapidly. Check out these 30 leadership behaviors that are guaranteed to create mistrust within any team:

  1. As leader, you fail to keep your promises, violate agreements and ignore commitments.
  2. You look after yourself first and others only when it is convenient.
  3. You micromanage and resist delegating.
  4. You demonstrate inconsistency between what you say and how you behave.
  5. You fail to share critical information with your team and your colleagues.
  6. You choose to not tell the truth.
  7. You resort to blaming and scapegoating others rather than own up to your mistakes.
  8. You judge and criticize rather than offer constructive feedback.
  9. You betray confidences, gossip and talk about others behind their backs.
  10. You choose to not allow others to contribute or make decisions.
  11. You downplay others’ talents, knowledge and skills.
  12. You refuse to support others with their professional development.
  13. You resist creating shared values, expectations and intentions in favor of your pursuing own agenda.
  14. You refuse to compromise and foster win-lose arguments.
  15. You constantly remind everyone of your status and make it clear that you will not be questioned or criticized without inflicting punishment in return.
  16. You refuse to be held accountable by your colleagues or subordinates.
  17. You resist accepting your vulnerability, hide your weaknesses and won’t admit you find anything a challenge.
  18. You practice sarcasm and put-down humor and rationalize off-putting remarks as “good for the group”.
  19. You fail to admit you need support and prefer to mess up rather than ask anyone for help.
  20. You take others’ suggestions and critiques as personal attacks.
  21. You fail to encourage openness in team meetings and allow others to avoid contributing constructively.
  22. You refuse to consider the idea of constructive conflict. In fact, you usually avoid conflict at all costs.
  23. You consistently hijack team meetings and move them to your personal agenda.
  24. You either ignore or fail to follow through on decisions agreed at team meetings.
  25. You secretly engage in back-door negotiations with favored team members to create cliques and political alliances.
  26. You refuse to give others the benefit of the doubt.
  27. You judge people without allowing them to explain their position or actions and won’t reverse incorrect decisions.
  28. You refuse to apologize for mistakes or misunderstandings.
  29. You use your position to indulge in inappropriate behavior.
  30. When things go wrong, your first response always to defend yourself and protect your reputation.

When you show up in integrity, behave ethically and allow your vulnerability, others will see you as genuine, warts and all. Only when that happens will your teammates begin to trust you. You will have created a personal ‘container of safety’ in which others feel they can relate to you in an equally genuine fashion.

Communication and true teamwork is a function of trust, not technique. When trust is high, communication becomes effortless. Communicating and relating are instantaneous. When trust is low, communicating and relating are effortful, exhausting and very demanding of time and energy—if they take place at all. No one wants to give 100% to someone they can’t trust. Only when you demonstrate that you trust others will those around you see you as trustworthy enough to share their thoughts and insights in full.

Your $10 food-for-thought questions this week are:

  • How deeply do you trust your own people? Do you trust that they are working to do what’s best for you?
  • Are you trustworthy? What does trust mean to you? What is your notion of trust?
  • Do you often find yourself needing to be in control? Do you have a lot of rules that have to be met before you trust someone?
  • Do you feel the people in your life should think, feel and behave as you do? What does someone have to do for you not to trust them?
  • Are fear, doubt and anxiety a large part of your life? Where or when do you feel not good enough or not worthy enough?
  • Why is trust easy or difficult for you? What would your life be like if you substituted trust for fear?
  • Would you describe yourself as one who has a well-honed capacity to trust, be non-judgmental, and compassionate? Would people describe you as a good listener? How do you know?
  • Have you ever been told, directly or indirectly, that you can’t be trusted? If so, what was that like?

“The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust.” ­ Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War under President Roosevelt

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This post was written by:

Peter Vajda - who has written 39 posts on Slow Leadership.

Peter Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a founding partner of SpiritHeart, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching and counseling. With a practice based on the dynamic intersection of mind, body, emotion and spirit, Peter’s 'whole person' coaching approach supports deep and sustainable change and transformation. Peter facilitates and guides leaders and managers, individuals in their personal and work life, partners and couples, groups and teams to move to new levels of self-awareness, enhancing their ability to show up authentically and with a heightened sense of well be-ing, inner harmony and interpersonal effectiveness as they live their lives at work, at home, at play and in relationship. Peter is a professional speaker and published author. For more information: , or [email protected] , or phone 770.804.9125.

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15 Comments For This Post

  1. CK says:

    Work relationships for a successful leadership is based of truth and honesty. If there is a lack of trust and honesty there is no leadership but mearly a job to collect a paycheck and make a living.

    In my current work location I have at least trust of may of my co-workers where are where I was before I had trust in only a few. The reason I have no trust on many others is from the proven lies and backstabbing that has gone on in the past and is currently their M.O.. These very same people whom I do not trust are disrespectful and backstabbing their current Supervisor - one I trust and respect myself.

    The current uppermanagement staff are nothing but mear “Yes-men and woman.” That is the prefered way of managing people - or in other words the olde means of “command and control” practiced six decades ago. If you disagree or counter their points with logic or reason then you are considered a problem. And if you are considered a problem then you can forget any advancement!

  2. peter vajda says:

    Hi, CK,

    Trust and honesty are the “secret sauce” of healthy relationships - at work, at home and at play. Without this secret sauce, relationships are dry, brittle, and easily broken. One unfortunate downside of the “command and control” practice as you refer to it is the enormous waste of emotional, physical and psychic energy that happens in such fear-based organizations…the result of which is a cadre of employees many of whom are unhappy, disengaged and exhibit “presenteeism”. Not a healthy place to be…and the stress under which many these folks work eventually takes its toll in some way, shape or form.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  3. CK says:

    @Peter - I don’t want people to think that I’m bitter or anything. I have experienced such things personally as well as have seen this for myself. I have some co-workers who have seen the abuse that was placed on me - some that would be considered life-threating if I didn’t keep my wits about me. (Yes, my employer placed me in a life-threating situation.)

    Some employees have hired lawyers in order to protect themselves and their jobs! I know of one co-worker that went to EAP and was advised to go to a lawyer.

    Former supervisors and managers have been demoted, fired or resigned for sexual harassment, employee abuse, etc. When employees complain to upper management in confidence, the result is the manager tells the employees supervisor the issue and to take care of “the problem” (the problem being the employee). The result is that no one complains without fear of jeopardizing his/her career. And if you do complain, like myself (sexual harassment is what a lawyer told me) then they make an example of you as they have done to me!

    Many employees I’ve talked to have told me that they are actively looking to leave. Others are counting their days til retirement, while others leave for other employment. When the economy turns there will be a massive ‘brain-drain’ and our employer will be standing there wondering why! These employees are willing to leave health benefits, retirement and the like due to the abuse they have all witnessed!

    A lawyer told me that I have a case against my employer for sexual harassment, age discrimination, abuse, and retaliation. “The problem is that once you file a complaint any possible career is over and yes, they WILL retaliate - just that it will be MORE covert to avoid another lawsuit!

    (And this does not include any activities such as the use of pirated software!)

    So you can see that trust is a MAJOR factor in any business!!! And without trust it can spiral down to corruption!

  4. CK says:

    I would like to add one more thing …

    I heard that “a fish rots from the head down.” In my case the saying is true.

  5. peter vajda says:

    Hi, CK,

    Not to worry about others’ judgments of you…you bring your experience to your comments and that’s fine. I would venture to say the abuses you describe are more common than many realize, unfortunately, in such fear-based organizational cultures. On a more fudamental level, those who sacrifice sanity for salary often wished they hadn’t, in the long run when they look back. I’m not referring to you, CK, but to others I have met along the way who faced similar curcumstances and challenges. As for your fish metaphor, yes, the culture and cultural norms are fostered by leadership, or the lack of it. Trust, indeed, makes or breaks healthy relationships…

    Thank you for sharing part of your story.

  6. Jim DeSantis says:

    Your post is an excellent synopsis of the right and wrong ways of leadership.

    If managers, bosses, supervisors, and employees would take your post and embrace it, the workplace would truly be an enjoyable experience.

    Billions of words have been written, seminars given, speeches made, yet, the workplace remains a battleground with many opposing armies fighting for their own ground instead of for victory for the “team”.

    Nevertheless, keep reminding us of how the workplace can be transformed by smart leaders.

  7. peter vajda says:

    Hi, Jim,

    You suggest: “If managers, bosses, supervisors, and employees would take your post and embrace it, the workplace would truly be an enjoyable experience.”

    I think one of the reasons (excuses?) this isn’t the case is that often folks are waiting for someone else to step up, and show up. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.” Perhaps if each one said, “I’ll show up this week and in one or two small ways, I’ll be that change” perhaps more folks would experience the enjoyabe workplace you point to.

    Agreed, it’s often much easier to write about and espouse positive behavior, and values, but more challenging to “be” that behavior at “9:00 Monday morning”. The underlying question is “why” folks choose not to.

    I appreciate your stopping by to comment.

  8. Bob says:

    Building and encouraging the kinds of trust you discuss is essential, but sadly sometimes fall victim to the urge to control and dictate. I have a copy of the Stimson quote on my bulletin board for just those occasions when my will is weakening and doubts are in the ascendency.

  9. peter vajda says:

    Hi, Bob,

    You raise a good point. The urge to control and dictate are often driven by fear and fear is the element that causes separation among and between folks, inhibiting healthy relationships. I, too, keep my eye on on Stimson’s quote…a wonderful tug on my sleeve when I need it.

    Thank you for commenting.

  10. sambit says:

    When you drive on the road you trust other drivers to act as per the signals they give. There is no accident a long as they signal what they are going to do and you read them properly save human errors. You do not trust when one does not act the way it professes. Hence lack of trust arises when there is mis-communication or human errors or hidden-agenda carried on both sides. For a smooth drive these are to be avoided lest the accident affects both or may i say, most.

  11. peter vajda says:

    Hi, Sambit,

    The driving metaphor works well. The question vis-a-vis the workplace is who’s creating the “rules of the (workplace) road”, i.e., behavioral norms, attitudes, qualifications, rewards, recognition, support, etc., and the penalities for defying such rules. Giving folks a free pass when they transgress agreed-upon norms is what creates a culture of distrust, mistrust, and unhealthy relationships….the stuff that causes “car wrecks” and accidents. Who smooths out the “bumps in the road”, or simply allows them to worsen?

  12. Kathakali Chatterjee says:

    This reminds me of an interesting article from HBR which mentions about the “contextual sensitivity” in a good leader.

    Unless one allows himself/ herself to be versatile, being sensitive and acknowledging the same is not possible.

    I agree with the fact “trust” is needed in every sphere of life, without it the environment becomes absolutely dysfunctional.

    The 30 questions as a “check” is extremely valid, thanks for the pointer!

  13. jeff says:

    This is quite a list. And you’re right on when you say it is an integral building block for a team. You can’t move forward as a group without it that’s for sure.

  14. peter vajda says:

    Hi, Kathakali,

    Context is critical, as you suggest. And context here takes into account the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of relationships. Honest and trusting relationsips are not simply formed from the head up.

    If we look at the misunderstandings, misperceptions and misconceptions we have about others, and which we communicate to others by our own untrustworthy behaviors, and explore how lacking trust is within our systems, we really cannot be surprised at the level of dysfunctionality that threads through our organizations - business, healthcare, political, educational, etc. Shocked, maybe, but not surprised.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  15. peter vajda says:

    Hi, Jeff,

    You say re: trust, “…You can’t move forward as a group without it that’s for sure.”

    And for those groups and teams that attempt to move forward without the foundational element of trust as support, the move is more often bumpy, contentious and unpleasant than not.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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