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:
- Knife-Edge Performers
- Some employees deliver performance episodically, while some deliver steady, but barely adequate performance.
Either way, they keep their managers drained and anxious, on the "knife edge" of terminating
them. How can you detect knife-edge performers, and what can you do about them?
- Animosity Patterns
- Animosity between two people at work is often attributed to "personality clashes." While sometimes
people can't get along, animosity can also be a tool for accomplishing strictly political ends. Here's
a short catalog of some of its uses.
- Political Framing: Strategies
- In organizational politics, one class of toxic tactics is framing — accusing a group or individual
by offering interpretations of their actions to knowingly and falsely make them seem responsible for
reprehensible or negligent acts. Here are some strategies framers use.
- When the Answer Isn't the Point: II
- Sometimes, when we ask questions, we're more interested in eliciting behavior from the person questioned,
rather than answers. Here's Part II of a set of techniques questioners use when the answer to the question
wasn't the point of asking.
- Anticipate Counter-Communication
- Effective communication enables two parties to collaborate. Counter-communication is information provided
by a third party that contradicts the basis of agreements or undermines that collaboration.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 1: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 1.
- And on April 8: Intentionally Misreporting Status: I
- When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good news or soften the bad news. How can we best deal with these obstacles to reporting status with integrity? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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.