TRUST: The Signals We Send

by | February 26, 2019 | Building Trust, Effective Communication, Leadership

What characterizes a cohesive team? I ask groups all over the nation.

Collectively, they agree TRUST is extremely important. Yet, because of widespread hidden agendas and extensive political maneuvering in an ever-changing global economy, most people do not intrinsically trust themselves, their co-workers, or the organization they work for.

According to the 2016 Edleman Trust Barometer, 33% of employees don’t trust their employer. The lower you go in an organization, the less trusting the people are. The study indicated that 64% of executives trust their company, while 51% of managers and 48% of rank and file trusted their employer.

The 2016 PwC CEO Survey found that 55% of CEO’s believe mistrust in the workplace constitutes a foundational threat to their business and brand.

You Hold the Key

At the same time, trust is the key to unlocking every internal and external relationship. It is foundational and vital to cohesive, productive teams and organizations. Nevertheless, fewer than half your workforce may trust their leaders.

Is it possible to break through this barrier and become a trustworthy, high-performing leader or organization? Absolutely! Ordinary people like you and me hold the key. Smart, savvy change starts with understanding the signals we send, often inadvertently.

The Sender Receiver Model

We have a message we mean to deliver though various mediums: face-to-face, email, text message, or phone, to name a few. Most of us intend to send a positive message, but so often we fail because, as humans, we make meaning of messages based minimal, misconstrued, and mistaken first impressions. Lacking context, we often form snap judgments that get in the way of both the message we send, and the message we receive.

Signals are all forms of non-verbal and verbal communication. They are actions and behaviors that indicate to others our meaning. They often cause the recipients to tell themselves distorted stories.

The Day I Climbed the Wall

After a corporate merger I was invited to a High-Performance Leadership Summit in the beautiful Cheyenne Mountains of Colorado.

Bring your jeans and sneakers, and prepare for a challenge on the mountain, read the email from the conference director. Being a complete klutz from the time I was a kid, I trembled in fear at the thought of the fool I might make of myself in front of my peers.

Upon arrival at the site of the adventure, before my bulging eyes, there was a 40’ wall that seemed to reach to the sky – and we were asked to climb it.

Experience told me, when organizations merge it is usually accompanied with a reduction in force. When my back was against the wall here's the message I received: THEY'RE SEGREGATING THE HIGH PERFORMERS FROM THE MEDIOCRE ONES. CLIMB THE WALL OR RISK YOUR JOB.

The company probably didn’t mean to send a terroristic threat, but filtered through the keyhole of experience, that was my delusional interpretation.

Fear drove me up the wall, and once conquered, gave me the confidence to walk away from an organization I distrusted. That’s probably not the outcome they were expecting from a leading sales performer.

That signal came through written words in an email. Signals can also come from gestures like smirks, scowls, and eye rolls.

My Co-Worker Went Ballistic

Once I was in a strategic planning meeting. Our leader asked us to put our ideas on the table. One of my colleagues was asked for his insights. I can’t remember what he said, but I can remember what he did. Before he finished speaking, he slammed his water bottle on the table and shouted, SHE’S LAUGHING AT ME! He proceeded to storm out of the room in a huff and never returned.

His co-worker never said a word. The smile on her face wasn’t a smirk or sneer. It was a sincere smile from a sanguine sent to a choleric. She didn’t mean to incite him to a hostile fit of rage. But, the smile on her face sent a signal that set him over the edge and breached trust between the two of them, our team and our firm.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Intentions may be good, but the message is often misinterpreted because of our misleading non-verbal signals, which are often filtered through the keyhole of our misguided emotions.

If people aren’t listening to you speak, they’re watching you through a filtered keyhole – and making discriminate judgments, assigning disputable motives, and drawing dismal conclusions about you and the organization you work for.

You may say, I want a promotion, but when your manager asks you to take on additional responsibilities you complain. The signal your manager probably received is that you want a higher title and the accompanying pay increase, but you’re not willing to make sacrifices to prove you’re capable. The fact is the higher you go in a corporation, the more that’s expected – without complaining, and sometimes without compensation. People who genuinely want to advance in their careers see extra responsibility as a way to prove their potential.

Or, you may say, We value employee opinions, but when an employee sends you their opinion you don’t bother acknowledging receipt. Lack of recognition could send the signal that you really don’t care what they think. Employees want to feel heard. When people feel heard, whether you agree with their ideas or not, they’re likely to buy-in and support your decisions, even those they disagree with.

Acting Like Trust Agents

If you are in a position of authority, influence or leadership, you’re a Trust Agent. Those closest to you have the clearest sense of the motivations behind your actions and words. Beyond this inner circle, employees in other areas of the business who see and hear you through a filtered keyhole, make meaning of your words and actions based on minimal, misconstrued and mistaken information.

It would behoove us to step back and think of the unconscious signals we may be sending. It takes time and discipline to consider situations from various points of view.

Mergers and acquisitions happen. Layoffs are inevitable. Employees are already anxious. Be sensitive. That doesn’t mean we avoid difficult decisions. Smart, savvy leaders build trust by handling them with authenticity and diplomacy.

Understand what triggers your co-workers to explode. You may have to wipe the smile off your face. And, PLEASE stop tolerating eye rolls – they're always condescending and limit innovative thinking. Smart, savvy leaders build trust by treating others the way they want to be treated; with dignity.

Lastly, make sure your words and actions align. People don’t listen to you speak. They watch you. Words won’t build trust, actions will.  Trust is the key that unlocks every relationship and opportunity. You hold the key that drives the success of your business and brand by the signals you send.

What signals are you sending?

Copyright 2019 © Beth Rudy, All rights reserved