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It was as close as you could get to a screaming match, and still maintain a professional level of communication.
My supervisor stood behind her desk, her face wearing a closed, hard look. I was used to it. It was the face she ‘saved’ for her team, and the exact opposite demeanor she wore with her supervisors and clients.
Double faced little b*****, I thought quietly to myself, not for the first time.
She glared at me as though she could read my thoughts.
“How do I even know you can ….”
‘Why don’t you ask my team?” I interrupted, secure in my performance.
“Your team?” She practically spat out the phrase. “Your team doesn’t trust you,” she snarled.
The rest of the conversation is a haze. I’m pretty sure I contained the sudden tears until I was out of her office and safely esconced in a bathroom cubicle.
As the youngest team leader, I needed to show I was strong and steady, not easily reduced to a blubbering hurt mess by a statement I was 100% sure was inaccurate.
Or was it?
What Is Trust?
Trust is defined as the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.
Trust is about honesty and consistency.
Trust is not about people pleasing or avoiding conflict, behaviours we think are associated with gaining popularity or encouraging others to like us.
Funnily enough, these very behaviors could be counterproductive in the long run.
The Know-Like-Trust Continuum
In the sales and marketing world, professionals are aware that prospects don’t become customers until they first know you, then like you, and then finally trust you enough to engage in a transaction with you.
Similarly, to your team, you are nothing but the conduit to their paycheck until you lead them through the KLT continuum.
Unfortunately, many young leaders, like I was that day with my fiery boss, fall into the trap of believing that liking is the same as trusting, that being liked is the same as being trusted.
Not only is this inaccurate, but can put you at risk of not earning trust at all from the very individuals you think already trust you.
Are You At Risk?
You could be at risk of never reaching the trust part of the KLT continuum if you engage in one or more of the following behaviors:
People pleasing: often stemming from a vague sense of insecurity, people pleasing is more widespread than you might think. As a recovering people pleaser myself, I know that it can be confused with tolerance and be driven by a desire to belong. Just ask any third culture kid. Ask yourself if this is the best outcome for those involved, especially for you. The answer will tell you if you are truly being helpful or engaging in people pleasing.
Inability to say no: you want to say no, but say yes anyway, because you think it is helpful. The problem is that you end up taking on too much and over committing, then don’t follow through because you are overwhelmed.
Breaking promises to yourself: trust and leadership start with yourself. If you continually promise yourself that you will go to the gym, make that difficult phone call or finally learn how to play the piano, then don’t do any of those things, you are creating a pattern of being OK with broken promises. If you can’t even trust yourself, why should others trust you?
Want to keep peace at all costs: budding United Nations wannabes and, according to the movie, Adult Children Of Divorce, have a particular propensity for peacekeeping, quickly sweeping disagreements under the carpet for the sake of maintaining the peace, at least on the surface. The problem is that unresolved and unacknowledged conflict leads to such deep layers of resentment, that the temporary peace is not worth it.
Still, all is not lost. As with many things, being aware of the problem is already half of the solution.
For the other half, follow these steps to increase your chances of gaining the trust of your team and your potential customers.
How To Increase Trust
Honest, constructive feedback: honesty doesn’t need to be hurtfully brutal. Giving feedback in a constructive manner, showing that a better outcome is the goal, and not criticism, is a sign of a good leader. To help avoid a bruised ego, address the behaviour or the skill, rather than the person.
Live your values: strive for aligning what you feel on the inside with what you say and do on the outside. Apart from avoiding all kinds of undue stress, it will distinguish you from your peers as someone who is transparent and true to themselves. It will set you apart from those who disguise having no values with ‘going with the flow’.
Consistent message: if your values are clearly reflected in managing your relationships, communicating a consistent message will naturally follow. Don’t be afraid that your message may be unpopular in certain situations. Frankly, no one cares most of the time – everyone is too busy living out their own drama – so why put yourself at odds with yourself?
Understanding is not the same as agreeing: finally, remember that you can acknowledge and even empathize with someone without having to agree with them. . Use language that clearly shows you are aware of their position, such as “I see where you are coming from” and “I hear you”. Allowing yourself to be in the other person’s shoes without getting defensive about your own position can take a little practice, but it is a skill well worth perfecting.
That long ago afternoon, it was a shock to come to terms with what my supervisor had told me. I was insanely protective of my team, and felt I did everything to help them (and me) succeed.
I spent the afternoon in a pity party for one. Went home early. Felt sorry for myself. Cried some. Went through the whole ‘How dare she’ thing.
After getting over the pain, separating the ego bruising from my personal and professional obligation to my team, I knew I needed to face the reality that she could be right.
So I asked. I singled out each team member, and quietly asked.
I didn’t like some of the answers at all. I saw, through their eyes, someone whose behavior could be perceived, at times, inconsistent at best, and downright manipulative at worst. I saw how in my desire to protect, be gentle and see their point of view, my language and behaviour could be interpreted in a very different way.
They probably thought double faced little b**** about me too!
The good news was that it opened up a new level of understanding, and dare I say, trust, with those individuals with whom I had the brutally honest conversation.
The Know-Like-Trust continuum is simple, yet not always easy to navigate in the right direction, especially early on in building relationships with your team and your potential customers.
Think about your top three key relationships. Where do you think you stand in that continuum with each of them?
What action will you take this week to move that relationship along the Know-Like-Trust continuum?