In the dark ages of business, companies relied on fear as a motivator of performance. The intuition was that if employees felt that their jobs were constantly on the line, they would be frightened into doing their best possible work. As Dr. Edward Marshall points out in this great article, the reverse is actually true.
When employees feel trust in the workplace, they are much more likely to feel engaged, which promotes productivity and loyalty. Changing workplace culture to promote trust in every direction — between employees, their managers, and the company — will help create a more bonded workplace where people feel safe, appreciated, and enabled to do their best work.
But distrust in the workplace has a way of sneaking into daily interactions. By developing your conversational intelligence, you can become attuned to signals of trust and distrust from people who work for you and the people who you work for.
Tuning in to Signals of Trust and Distrust
In every workplace interaction that we have, our body has an immediate physical reaction. If a person distrusts you, their body will release cortisol within a second of beginning the interaction. Cortisol is the stress hormone, so you might see signals and distrust if someone sweats, stutters, avoids eye contact, or is otherwise awkward while interacting with you.
If distrust has become ingrained, a person might be able to seem at ease when conversing with you, but you might notice signals that indicate distrust. For example, they might always keep their interactions with you short, avoid personal topics, or avoid providing you with any specifics about how their work is progressing.
When people feel trust, conversations tend to be marked by ease and friendliness. You don’t necessarily have to be best buddies with the people who work for you, but if they trust you, they will be more likely to joke with you, keep you up-to-date on their progress, and be honest about any problems they might be facing.
Obviously, an environment built around trust is much more productive, functional, and pleasant to work in. If you get the sense that your employees might not trust you or that you might not be trusted by the people that you work for, consider how your conversational style might factor in. Through personal assessments and workplace culture change, you can make your conversations more productive, fruitful, and direct, all of which will help you build trust in your workplace.