Trust and Betrayal at the Work Place - Are your Actions Eroding your Relationship Capital?

By karlsmith-then…, 5 January, 2015

For many employees today, collaborative, complex problem solving is the essence of their work says Karl Smith author, speaker and founder of Business Networking South Africa.  These "tacit" activities normally involve the exchange of information, the making of judgments, and a need to draw on multifaceted forms of knowledge in exchanges with co-workers, customers and suppliers.

Trust is the foundation for collaboration and the importance thereof is widely recognised these days, with many organisations incorporating it as part of their mission statement or even adopting it as a core competency. However, there are still plenty of problems for companies and organisations in this area. Very often the difference between business success and failure has little to do with product features or functions and much more to do with the trust built up in a relationship amongst employees, managers, customers and other stakeholders.

So why should we invest more in building business relationships? When trust erodes, relationships are compromised and people shut down, show little interest to take risks and collaborating. The outcomes of the relationship interactions between people, products and business units constitute the entities’ Relationship Capital.

When we think of “capital” we think of money but when we begin to look at how we acquire money (Financial Capital), we realise that any Financial Capital that we have ever received has been the result of who we know and what we know. The “what we know” is also known as “Intellectual Capital”.

Trust is constantly challenged in the workplace through gossip, restructuring, mergers, acquisitions, tight controls on information sharing, questionable job appointments and other dynamics.

For instance, gossiping employees, workers who don't feel that their manager is always acting in their interest, and those of the workforce who sense they cannot take co-workers at their word, are all issues that can mean a big headache for human resources. Yet, trust and “betrayal” is rarely openly discussed in the boardroom and at other forums in the workplace.

The research on the topic of trust is clear - it is a by-product of three primary attributes or characteristics of behaviour:
• “I believe that you’ll do what you say you’ll do.”
• Competence
• A sense of benevolence

Let’s look at each of these three behaviours. Do you “walk the talk?” Anytime someone’s behaviour or actions are incongruent with their words or communication, it causes distrust to build. We all have moments of inconsistency, but the true, trusted person rarely, if ever, fails to follow this rule. 

Integrity? Violate a sense of ethics or morality, and your boat is sunk. If someone is not competent at most of the critical competencies of a job or task, then trust becomes more elusive.

You can feel a sense of benevolence in many ways, some of which include regular and clear communication so that people feel “in on things”, under-promise and over-deliver – consistently, and never the other way around. Having a “servant attitude” – demonstrate that you are there to serve others, and if you needed someone at a crucial time, you could count on them.

Another expert offers the following trust building behaviours:

• Step one is making workers aware of how trust is built, violated and, whenever necessary, repaired.
• Provide clear communication channels to communicate concerns directly with managers and co-workers, rather than relying on the gossip mill.
• Take advantage of the skills employees were hired for and effectively match employees' skill sets to their work. If you're communicating directly with workers who are well suited to the tasks they have been given, another tip to keep in mind is leaving off the blinders. You need to trust your managers and employees, but not with tunnel vision.
• A protocol should be in place for grievances so the gossip and backbiting mill is not fed, and the charged employee is given a fair hearing.

We all experience the building and breaking of trust in personal and professional relationships. This can occur instantly or erode gradually. When trust is breached we feel betrayed, vulnerable and even confused. Healing from betrayal - whether intentional or not - begins when we acknowledge that betrayal has occurred and that we understand its impact on others. You have to give trust to create trust.

We are not inclined to trust leaders and managers who we experience as selfish, immature, incompetent, unauthentic and self-absorbed.  Achieving sustainable trust requires them to be emotionally matured, aware of what trust is and what behaviours will strengthen relationships. 

It is the responsibility of a leader to recognise there will be some people who at some point in time may become vulnerable and lose their sense of themselves, and may behave in a way that is untrustworthy. "We are human beings, and even those of us who are highly trustworthy do make mistakes. We do lose our way. We do lie, and we do violate trust,” Smith concludes.


This article may be copied or republished with the following credit: "By Karl Smith: speaker, author and founder of Business Networking South Africa”

Karl Smith talks about trust and influence in personal brands, networking relationships and changing organisations.





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