A sense of trust — trusting others and being trusted ourselves — is something most of us value. At work, distrust has direct economic consequences, but we rarely pause to think about its costs. Here's Part II of a little catalog of ways we cope with distrust, and the costs that result. See "The High Cost of Low Trust: I," Point Lookout for April 19, 2006, for more.
- Some people feel that they might be blamed or held responsible for failures or mishaps. They either conceal the failure, or conceal their roles in it, sometimes even concealing themselves. Concealment can include lies of commission or omission.
- Concealment makes replicating failures more likely, and replicating successes less likely. It tends to complicate recovery from or learning from failures, because it makes them and their causes less visible. And in the same way, it can complicate any learning from successes.
- At work, distrust has
direct economic consequences,
but we rarely pause
to think about its costs
- If the level of distrust in the environment becomes unbearable, we sometimes escape to whatever degree we can. Early forms of escapism include missing meetings and elevated absenteeism. Unaddressed, escapism can become voluntary transfer or termination.
- Escapism mimics other forms of substandard performance. Because we tend to see escapist behavior as a problem of the individual, rather than a symptom of organizational distrust, we have difficulty detecting it or resolving it. Escapism deprives the organization of the contributions of the escapee, which can be costly when the escapee plays a critical role.
- When we distrust someone, we sometimes limit contact by avoiding that person, to relieve ourselves of worry about attacks. But this tactic further limits our knowledge of the activities and intentions of those we distrust, which can increase our sense of distrust. Moreover, the insulation also deprives those we distrust of information about us, which can cause distrust on their part, too.
- Avoidance tends to deepen distrust on both sides, which increases the prevalence and cost of other distrust coping patterns. And avoidance can complicate team efforts if the avoider and the person avoided have to work together.
- In problem solving, we sometimes prefer solutions with hedges, so that even if they fail, we still get some of what we want. But hedges can make the solution unpalatable to our negotiation partners, because they might not know our real motivations, and then they imagine something truly horrible.
- If our partners sense what we're doing, hedging can further lower the overall level of trust. It increases the cost and complexity of internal negotiations, and lengthens them, too. Many so-called "control procedures" are actually hedges against feared outcomes whose organizational costs are often less than the cost of the control procedures.
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One tactic we sometimes use in low-trust relationships is indirectness. We say what we think, but in such an obtuse manner that it can be interpreted in a variety of ways. See "The True Costs of Indirectness," Point Lookout for November 29, 2006, for more.
For more about Trust, see "Creating Trust," Point Lookout for January 21, 2009, "TINOs: Teams in Name Only," Point Lookout for March 19, 2008, and "Express Your Appreciation and Trust," Point Lookout for January 16, 2002.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Beyond Our Control
- When bad things happen, despite our plans and our best efforts, we sometimes feel responsible. We failed.
We could have done more. But is that really true? Aren't some things beyond our control?
- Telephonic Deceptions: II
- Deception at work probably wasn't invented at work. Most likely it is a continuation of deception in
the rest of life. But the technologies of the modern workplace offer new opportunities to practice the
art. Here's Part II of a handy guide for telephonic self-defense.
- Active Deceptions at Work
- Among the vast family of workplace deceptions, those that involve presenting fiction as reality are
among the most exasperating, because we sometimes feel fooled or gullible. Lies are the simplest example
of this type, but there are others, and some are fiendishly clever.
- That Was a Yes-or-No Question: I
- In tense situations, one person might question another. As the respondent replies, the questioner interjects,
"That was a yes-or-no question." The intent is to trap the respondent. How does this work,
and how can the respondent escape the trap?
- Meets Expectations
- Many performance management systems include ratings such as "meets expectations," "exceeds
expectations," and "needs improvement." Many find the "meets" rating demoralizing.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.