We see only behavior, never intentions.

Perhaps one of the greatest barriers to great relationships and high trust in the workplace is mis-understood intentions.  And the reason for this is simple.  We cannot see intentions, we only see behavior, or hear words.  Many times the behaviors are mis-understood because we come from different behavioral styles.  The words can be mis-understood because they are taken out of context.  Humans are really messy creatures when it comes to communication.

Back to intentions.  Have you ever been mis-understood?  Have you ever hurt someone by something you did, or did not do, because they mis-understood the real intention behind the behavior?  I have had the privilege of coaching a number of folks in management or executive positions and often find that their intentions are appropriate, even admirable, but the way the behavior is interpreted leads to mis-understanding.  They might be a person of few words and make decisions for the good of the organization but don’t take the time to explain the thinking that went on to come to that decision.  This leads to second guessing, and sometimes hurt feelings, if the decision has a short term negative side to it.  And, in many cases, diminished trust.

As a person who is analytical, and somewhat introverted, I often do things that may not make sense to those around me merely because I did not take the time, or make the effort, to preface my actions with more words.  

A number of years ago a client organization was in the process of rolling out a series of changes that would affect many people in the company.  They decided to hold an employee meeting to announce the changes.  Due to the number of employees, they scheduled two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  Trying to be efficient, the presentation was designed to be brief and present just the facts of the changes.  Without presenting the reasoning behind the changes, the morning session resulted in many questions from the audience and the meeting took much longer than anticipated.  During the break between the morning and afternoon sessions the presentation was changed and included much more of the background information.  The afternoon session was much shorter with almost no questions from the audience. 

In one-to-one interactions behavioral style is often the issue.  A reflective person takes time to weigh the pros and cons of a decision and a highly active, fast-paced person begins to get annoyed because the decision is taking so long.  A simple choice of what to eat when the menu is long can easily set up such a situation.  Or, a highly verbal person goes on and on telling a more reserved team member ALL of their thinking process, and the people they interacted with, before they announce a decision.  The quiet team member has tuned them out and begins thinking about the next item on their to-do list.  

These differences in behavioral style are often just minor annoyances and present situations in which we can practice understanding.  But what if the highly active, fast paced team leader announces a decision with little background information as they are passing someone in the hallway?  And what if that team member was counting on a different decision?   Even if, in the long run, the unexpected decision is really the best for all involved, the team member will often feel hurt and perhaps betrayed.

We live in a fast-paced world.  Add to that a behavioral style that is naturally fast-paced or one that is highly analytical, or highly verbal.  The result is different perspectives on the same situation or decision. If we don’t dig into the real intentions behind behavior we often come away with mis-understandings that diminish trust.

The solution?  Easier said than done.  It is a never ending, time consuming, process of communication.  Asking for more information when you are the receiver and taking the time to provide more information when you are the deliverer of a decision or an action.  The more this happens, the more we begin to believe that those we work with are much like us.  They want positive outcomes and healthy relationships.  As do we.


Forgive and Forget is the way I have always heard it.  But is that the best approach when you are trying to build trust in a workplace relationship, or anywhere for that matter?

The previous example of forgiveness, taken from the tragic Nickel Mines shooting, could never be put in the “forgive and forget” category.  We need to remember events like this so we can work on preventing similar occurrences in the future.  So to with workplace situations where something is said or done that destroys trust and breaks relationships.  Forgiveness is essential to rebuild trust - but so is remembering.

I came to this conclusion years ago after reading a short, powerful book entitled Don’t Forgive Too Soon - Extending the Two Hands that Heal by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn.  It was the first time I began to understand the journey aspect of forgiveness.  I think it has great application to workplace trust.

The basic concept in the two hands of forgiveness goes like this:

The first hand says to the oppressor, “you can’t do this to me anymore”.  Visualize holding out your arm, almost pushing the other person away.  With this hand you are standing up for yourself and beginning the healing process.  This is where the remembering comes in.  You have decided to move on, to begin the journey but letting the other person know how you feel and that you value yourself enough to make sure you are not hurt the same way again.

And now the second hand.  This is the hand that invites the other person into relationship again.  This is the hand that says “you are better than this”.  Again, this is part of the journey since you have to believe that there is good in everyone. Without this belief you will never be able to truly forgive.

Using both of these hands together you begin your journey.  You have stood up for yourself but not built a wall around yourself.  There is room now to rebuild the relationship.

It has been said that holding a grudge, never forgiving, hurts us more than the person who perpetrated the initial act.  In fact, I have seen many instances of the perpetrator not even being aware that they said or did something to someone that was hurtful.  As Catherine Ponder put it:

“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel”.

And in this state there is no chance of rebuilding a relationship. In an earlier post I referenced a statement on forgiveness from Martin Luther King:

"Trust doesn’t have to be immediate, but the wrong act is no longer a barrier to a relationship. The offender endures his season of shame and is better for it. The offended are free from mean emotions like vengeance and are uplifted when they offer kindness. The social fabric is repaired. Community solidarity is strengthened by the reunion."

I believe this is what we are looking for.  King's statement could easily be seen as offering the two hands that heal.


“Forgiveness is a choice followed by a journey”

- Father of child killed at the West Nickel Mines Schoolhouse October 2, 2006

I am writing this on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the tragic Nickel Mines shooting. On that day Charles Carl Roberts IV shot 10 Amish school girls and then shot himself.  Five of the girls died.  Obviously this is a extreme example upon which to start a discussion around forgiveness.  But it is often within the extreme we find wisdom which can inform the more mundane instances of human interactions.

In our work with teams we often find communication problems which are rooted in some occurrence, often years earlier, in which one person said or did something to another person that was hurtful in some way.  From that point on the relationship became toxic and communication ceased to be productive.  Now we arrive and bring the team together for a team-building session of some type.  In the course of that meeting we discover the relationship issue.  What to do?

First, let me say we are not licensed therapists.  But we do know something about work relationships.  Which brings me back to Nickel Mines.

What rocked the world during that fateful time was the response of the Amish families who had children in that schoolhouse.  Within 24 hours of the shooting, a group of Amish men descended upon the home of Roberts.  His wife watched them approach her house as her father went out to meet them.  She soon saw them reach out to her father with open arms expressing their shared sorrow and offering their forgiveness.  How could they do such a thing?  That was the question on the minds of those outside the Amish community.  But, if you were a member of the Amish community you understood.  For their culture sees forgiveness as essential.  Forgiving others is the only way you will receive forgiveness from God.

I don’t bring this up as a theological message but, rather, to dig a bit deeper into the concept of forgiveness.  We have seen too many instances in work relationships (and family relationships) where forgiveness was not an option and relationships were destroyed over seemingly insignificant words or deeds.  This made me wonder why we don’t speak of forgiveness in the work world.  Why there has been little, if any, training for team leaders or team members on the subject.  Why we often find ourselves in the middle of a relationship crisis when working with teams and how quickly the team becomes productive once one team member leaves.

To quote the Amish father again, “forgiveness is a choice followed by a journey”.  Perhaps that is the key to bringing forgiveness into the workplace.  Seeing it as a choice, difficult as it may be, but not the end of the story.  I think too often we see forgiveness as something that is a once and done action and we are often not ready for that difficult task.  Whatever happened hurt us too much to just say “I forgive you” and then move on.  It is the “move on” piece that has to be addressed in our work relationships.  As the Amish father says, forgiveness is “followed by a journey”.   Ten years after the Nickel Mines shooting the families involved on both sides of the shooter are still on that journey.  For them it will never end since it was such a tragic event.  In the workplace, the journey is often much shorter.  But only if it begins.

Perhaps another point to ponder regarding the Amish community’s emphasis on forgiveness is the word “community”.  In a book that quickly followed the Nickel Mines tragedy, Amish Grace, the authors point to a significant difference between Amish culture and contemporary American culture - “individualism”.  They say:

Contemporary American culture tends to accent individual rights - freedoms, preferences, and creativity.  In contrast, the core value of Amish culture is community. 

Getting back to that choice. In our individualistic culture could it be that one of the barriers to forgiveness is the feeling that the perceived violation is an affront to our individual rights?  And, could another key to bringing forgiveness into the workplace be the development of a stronger sense of community - developing a culture in which the journey following the choice to forgive is supported by everyone on the team?


Mutual Trust - a Vignette from Adventures in Attitudes

Bob Conklin, in this vignette ending the unit on Attitude Awareness, writes about mutual trust.  It is unfortunate that we allocate no time to discussing his vignettes in this program since they are usually quite powerful and thought-provoking.  And this one is no exception.

In his inimitable fashion, Bob Conklin simplifies mutual trust and takes us on a thought journey into honesty.  Honesty, he says, is the foundation for mutual trust.  His path to trust is short and elegant - “You need to be basically honest. Honesty crops out into sincerity.  And sincerity is the mold for mutual trust.”

He uses an example from sports history in which Arnold Palmer marked down a one stroke penalty for himself in a major golf tournament even though no one else saw the ball move slightly as he addressed it.  That behavior is rare in sports, as well as in business and personal relationships.  For Palmer, it enabled him to become a trusted spokesperson in the advertising world.  Bob uses this example as encouragement for us to “be like Palmer”.

Saying “I made a mistake” or, “I am wrong” is hard for many of us.  Especially so for me.  On top of the typical need to protect an ego, I am blest  with a behavioral style that has a strong need to be right, or, at least, not be caught being wrong.  This makes it hard to admit mistakes.  But, I must admit, when I do point out something I did that was an error it is a bit freeing.  So, it will be worth the effort to keep this idea in mind and become more aware of this propensity to not admit mistakes. 

The vignette includes a number of quotes.  Two are worth remembering in regard to honesty:

Be not ashamed of mistakes and thus make them crimes. - Confucius 

Where is there dignity unless there is honesty - Cicero

Honesty leads to sincerity.  “Sincere people”, Bob says, “are those who have ideals, values, beliefs and conform to them.”  I know I have always been attracted to people like this and aspire to be one of them.  A favorite quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet seems to sum this one up:

This above all; to thine own self be true; and it need to follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.

So there is Bob Conklin’s formula for building mutual trust - Be Honest, Be Sincere.  And one more take away from the vignette - look for the good in others and begin by trusting them even when they don’t seem to deserve it.   In our work with teams we address this by encouraging team members to assume positive intentions when interpreting behaviors of other team members.  Not always easy to do.

How interesting to read this vignette once again, after a year of studying and working with Pat Lencioni's team model which puts vulnerability-based trust as the foundation to building cohesive teams.  This is exactly what this vignette seems to teaching.

Vulnerability and Leadership

Leadership Series: Vulnerability and Inspired Leadership | Impatient Optimists.

As a result of working with Pat Lencioni's team development model I have become intrigued by the impact of vulnerability on trust. The work of Brené Brown seems to support this relationship even though she doesn't use the word "trust". But it makes a lot of sense. The key quote for me in this article is her question for leaders (should also be the question for all members of a team):
Do we have the courage to show up, be seen, take risks, ask for help, own our mistakes, learn from failure, lean into joy, and can we support the people around us in doing the same?
Using this question while helping team members grapple with the level of trust on the team could be powerful.  I can see them calling up experiences with others on the team where each of these behaviors have been exhibited or, on the other hand, where they were not.  Sharing the results of these behaviors with other team members would help to clarify the impact of vulnerability and support further use of the behaviors.
In my coaching sessions I routinely encourage people to ask others for specific examples of when they used certain behaviors and the outcome of those behaviors.  We know that the mind likes to work with visualization, so this helps bring clarity and objectivity to the way we relate to others.  With clear examples, we are better able to either repeat a positive behavior or to make changes to behaviors which are having negative impacts.  These could refer to both relationships with others as well as outcomes on projects; e.g. the way we use our time. 
But the more significant outcome of this exercise would be building, or even restoring, trust.

The Act of Rigorous Forgiving -

As I read this op-ed I immediately related it to the problem of trust and betrayal in the workplace. This "Act of Rigorous Forgiving" is something that needs to be taught and practiced in work settings since they are, in the best sense, a community. We all do things which destroy trust from time to time. We are all in need of forgiveness. Spend a few moments pondering Brooks note on "re-trust" found at the end of his article - As Martin Luther King Jr. said, trust doesn’t have to be immediate, but the wrong act is no longer a barrier to a relationship. The offender endures his season of shame and is better for it. The offended are free from mean emotions like vengeance and are uplifted when they offer kindness. The social fabric is repaired. Community solidarity is strengthened by the reunion.

Click here to read the entire op-ed.

Trust Defined

I am currently reading “The Trust Factor” by John O. Whitney. The book was published in 1994 and the management/leadership concepts contained in it are remarkably current to my way of thinking. I am working my way through the list of books I compiled when I began this journey. I decided to take them in chronological order hoping it would provide me with a better sense of how we look at trust - a foundation of sorts.

Whitney draws on a definition of trust from Webster: “Trust is the belief or confidence in the honesty, integrity, reliability and justice of another person or thing”. Random House offers: “reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence”.

This got me thinking that I should explore definitions as a part of my testing the hypothesis I have about the behaviors that are necessary in trusting relationships. I am wondering how others would define trust.

Here are a few more from the dictionaries:

Oxford - “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something”

Macmillan - “a feeling of confidence in someone that shows you believe they are honest, fair, and reliable”

And, of course, Wikipedia - “a situation characterised by the following aspects: One party (trustor) is willing to rely on the actions of another party (trustee); the situation is directed to the future. In addition, the trustor (voluntarily or forcedly) abandons control over the actions performed by the trustee. As a consequence, the trustor is uncertain about the outcome of the other's actions; they can only develop and evaluate expectations. The uncertainty involves the risk of failure or harm to the trustor if the trustee will not behave as desired.”

Once again I am struck by the concept of vulnerability I noted in an early post where trust was defined as one’s willingness to be vulnerable to another group member’s actions. Each of the above definitions seem to imply the concept of vulnerability.

Is Trust an Essential Leadership Behavior?

Sweeney, et al, in Trust and Influence in Combat, are making a case for a correlation between the level of trust subordinates have in their leaders and the amount of leadership influence they will accept. Most leaders today probably accept the fact that a significant part of their role is the ability to influence others. Citing a number of authors and researchers, Sweeney, et at, conclude that the leadership literature up to 2009 would view trust as “an important outcome of leader behaviors, but not critical to the exercise of influence” (p. 240). This study, then, was designed to show that “trust is necessary and essential to the exercise of influence beyond compliance”.

I like the use of the word “compliance”. In our work we do all we can to help team leaders move the behaviors of those they lead from compliance to commitment. And, we show them how important relationships are in that endeavor. It doesn’t take much convincing for people to see this link. We have not, however, been making the case for the importance of trust in these relationships. And this is where I see my current study of trust taking me.

Back to the word “influence”. We are an authorized partner of Everything DiSC® - a new division of John Wiley & Sons. (They purchased Inscape Publishing last year). A recent Wiley book, The Work of Leaders, and a companion profile originally published by Inscape, The Work of Leaders, is based on significant research which resulted in an elegant model of the real work of leaders - crafting a Vision, building Alignment, & championing Execution. When we first introduced this model to a group of leaders running small businesses in our area, they quickly gravitated to discussing alignment. It seemed that once the vision was clear to these leaders they really struggled with turning it into something others would follow. Sound like a problem with leadership influence to you? it does to me. So, once again, this study spoke to me. I’ll end this post with one more quote; this time from page 250:

“First, and most importantly, the study found that the level of followers’ trust in a leader was highly predictive of their willingness to accept the leader’s influence regarding motivation to become better group members, strive for excellence, or improve as a person. This is an important finding because it provides empirical evidence to support the link between the trust-development process and the influence process, as hypothesized.”

And, I might add, the link between trust and alignment with a vision.

Trust and Organizational Structure

Sweeny, et al, in Trust and Influence in Combat, point to the impact of organizational structure on an Army leader’s effort to instill trust in those he or she leads. The factors in such an organizational structure could be regulations, cultural norms, and standard operating procedures. They say adding the factor of organizational structure broadens the scope of any model of trust due to its impact on “influencing leaders to behave in a trustworthy manner” (p. 240). In the Army there is an explicit norm that expects leaders to “promote and protect the welfare of their soldiers”. During my years as an aircraft commander in the Air National Guard I experienced that sense of obligation and it is easy to see how this will play out in environments where leadership has a life or death potential. But what about the more mundane world many of us work in?

This notion of organizational structure is also alluded to in Lencioni’s work (The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) as the development of group norms. And there are a multitude of studies in social psychology focusing on group norms. As an example - “Group Norms and the Attitude-Behavior Relationship”. I must admit that organizational structure had not been on my list of factors influencing the development of trust on a team although during our many years of working with teams using our Team Checkup we always began with the creation of behavioral ground rules or agreements for acceptable team behavior. And these, of course, are team norms that are part of “organizational structure”. But they are not as structured as that referenced in Sweeny’s article. The military makes it imperative that leaders are trustworthy. I now wonder if other organizations do this.