Trust and the Bottom Line: Part Four
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6 Ways to Optimize Performance Through Openness & Accountability

By: Ethan Schutz

Now that we’ve discussed what drives conflict and how it should be addressed, it’s time to explore how we build and maintain a corporate culture of trust, the key outcome of The Human Element. In order to create a successful foundation, it is crucial to understand the two different aspects of trust:

  • Trust in Others
  • Trust in Oneself

Trust in Others

When we put our trust in other people, we believe that they will do what they say and they will be honest. If we see that their actions do not match up with their words, we become wary and cautious to trust them again. Eventually, we may not want to interact with them in similar situations due to the fear of being disappointed or misled.

Discussing accountability can build mutual trust and solve future problems.

For instance, a person in sales may request data on a project they are working on from the marketing team. If the marketing team does not give this data by the deadline needed, the sales person may not trust them again. These workplace situations can be resolved and avoided through accountability and openness. If both groups are able to examine and agree on protocol, procedures, methods and standards, modes of decision-making, and ramifications, it will improve accountability as a whole. Though this is often a new conversation in the work place, by discussing accountability together openly team members build trust and foster an environment for future problem solving.

Still, accountability may not be enough. We can only rely on others so much. At the end of the day, we do not have direct control over anyone and sometimes people’s decisions and actions remain a mystery to us. To understand fully how trust works in a corporate culture, we must delve into a deeper understanding of human behavior and motivation.

What Motivates Behavior?

Surprisingly, we are motivated mainly by emotions rather than logic. This key distinction explains why we interpret some behavior in the workplace as irrational. To get a better understanding, we must examine our underlying emotions. Our FIRO theory (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation), focuses on three basic feelings that drive our behavior. Essentially, we each want to feel, to at least some degree:

  • Significant — We matter
  • Competent— We can handle our work and our lives
  • Likable — We are liked by others

Therefore, if we are in situations that threaten any of these three basic feelings, our behavior will reflect that—causing us to seem irrational.

Looking back at our earlier example, we can now understand how the sales person may have felt unimportant or neglected when the marketing team did not provide the promised data on time. When we have these unpleasant feelings, we unconsciously find coping methods to dodge them. For instance, the sales person may not talk about these feelings and thus not be able to validate whether their perceptions are true, or they may do the opposite and furiously confront marketing and blame them for not delivering. Either way, these approaches will produce negative feelings and will adversely affect both parties. This will drastically impact overall productivity and create future problems when they need to work with each other again.

Others break our trust mainly due to unconscious emotions dictated by fear.

We can understand this type of reactive behavior easily with FIRO theory. With the three basic feelings come three basic fears:

  • When our significance is challenged, we feel ignored
  • When we don’t feel competent, we feel embarrassed or humiliated
  • When we fear people don’t like us, we feel rejected

Understanding the reasons for others’ “irrational behaviors”, may lead us to want to fix the situation by focusing on the other person. But, counterintuitively, in order to improve the situation, we must focus on ourselves.

Trust in Oneself

While understanding the behaviors and motivations of others is helpful, trust will remain a challenge if we do not feel able to cope with our own feelings and fears in the face of difficult situations,. Essentially, it is difficult to trust other people if we don’t trust our own capabilities to deal with them. We too are prone to the underlying fears of feeling ignored, humiliated, and rejected. When we feel these fears, we lose our ability to be rational and to deal with others logically and directly. In other words, we are hijacked by our own emotions and are no longer able to assess situations correctly.

Trusting in oneself leads to trusting others.

Let’s refer back to our sales person example. Due to his fear of feeling ignored and unimportant, he becomes fixed on finding a way to improve his own feelings rather than trying to solve a business problem. However, if he feels capable and competent, he can have a direct and productive conversation with the marketing team without avoiding the issue, criticizing them, or placing blame. While there is no guarantee that the marketing team will respond in kind, they will be more likely to listen and to help solve the problem with this approach. It creates a clear path towards an open flow of communication and improving trust. Even if marketing continues not to meet expectations, self-trust will allow the sales person to communicate calmly and directly, leading to more productive solutions in the future.

Ultimately, if we can speak directly and honestly to others about our experience, we are able to build (and rebuild) trust in others, as well as ourselves.