You should never judge a book by its cover. But we all do. And we do it in milliseconds.
A recent study out of NYU showed test subjects pictures of faces for just 33 milliseconds. In that miniscule amount of time, different parts of the subject’s amygdala lit up, indicating that they either trusted the person or did not trust them. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes a lot of sense – you need to be able to quickly identify potential sources of harm – but from a modern human standpoint, it causes a lot of obvious problems.
One such problem is in the workplace. A recent Harvard Business Review survey found that nearly half of managers do not trust their business leaders.
A lack of trust in the workplace can lead to all sorts of problems, including poor communication, micro-management, and a generally poor workplace culture. Developing trust at work is no easy task, but it is certainly worth the effort to help ensure a healthy, dynamic work environment.
The good news is that visual first impressions are only a small part of the trust equation in the workplace. The main way that trust is built and broken is through personal interactions.
Putting a focus on the dynamics of personal interactions in the workplace is an important part of changing company culture. For example, if conversations between managers and their employees tend to be terse, devoid of praise, and high pressure, those interactions are going to create unnecessary stress and hinder motivation. Interactions that are cordial, personal, and respectful will have the opposite effect.
Here are three simple ways to build trust through conversation:
Be a better listener.
Think about your conversations with your employees. How much time do you spend talking? Do you ever let them get a word in? Make sure that your conversations go two ways, and actually listen to what your employees have to say. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, try scheduling office hours during which any employee can come voice an idea or a concern. That way, you won’t have any agenda during the conversation but to listen.
Ask better questions.
Pay attention to your employee’s interests and ask about them. Instead of only asking when an employee will be done with a certain project, ask how the project is going. Look for suggestions. Be open to new ideas. And be sure to frame your questions in a way that allow for open-ended answers.
Know your boundaries.
Don’t ask about topics that aren’t your business. If an employee has an important personal matter, give them the option to not share any details if they’re not comfortable doing so. Understand that you’re the boss, and some people may simply never want to be your friend. That’s ok.
On the flip side, if an employee does share a personal story or makes a complaint about a fellow employee, don’t be a gossip. Inform HR of anything they should know, but maintain confidentiality as much as possible and as often as possible.