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:
- 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.
- Group Problem-Solving Tangles
- When teams solve problems together, discussions of proposed solutions usually focus on combinations
of what the solution will do, how much it will cost, how long it will take, and much more. Disentangling
these threads can make discussions much more effective.
- Telephonic Deceptions: I
- People have been deceiving each other at work since the invention of work. Nowadays, with telephones
ever-present, telephonic deceptions are becoming more creative. Here's Part I of a handy guide for telephonic
- No Tangles
- When we must say "no" to people who have superior organizational power, the message sometimes
fails to get across. The trouble can be in the form of the message, the style of delivery, or elsewhere.
How does this happen?
- Problem Displacement and Technical Debt
- The term problem displacement describes situations in which solving one problem creates another.
It sometimes leads to incurring technical debt. How? What can we do about it?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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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.