CREATIVITY INC: REPAIRING TRUST ON TEAMS

The most valuable asset you have is the imagination of your workforce. There are two key ingredients that develop and deploy the full power of a team’s collective imagination: 1. time to think and 2. trust on the team.

What kills that creativity? What stops people from openly communicating, collaborating and creating together? What will keep the best ideas locked inside the imaginations of the people on your team, or worse, deploy their imaginations to undercut, undermine and obstruct the creative process?

Broken trust.

Broken trust erases the posture of openness in which creativity arises. Betrayal is a very powerful human experience. Many describe the experience of betrayal as worse than loss, because it involves the reordering of our sense of ourselves. When someone breaks our trust they also break inside of us the confidence we have in our relationships and our instincts about how and who to trust.

The implications for trust on teams therefore, is great.

When we create climates of trust we open another level of capacity, competence and creativity. And we also open the door for disappointment, resentment, hurt feelings, and broken trust, all of which, in the right combination, can leave a person or a team feeling betrayed.

Here is what you need to know.

It does not matter if betrayal or broken trust, deceit or deception were your intent. What matters is how you engage with your team once they have interpreted something negatively, and they are trying to make sense of it. It matters a great deal how you behave when people are trying to make sense of their experiences. This meaning-making time is where their beliefs are formed.

Here are some tips that can help you navigate the waters of broken trust on teams, so that you can repair relationships quickly and restore the team to its high-performing strength.

Once trust is broken, stay open!

Trust takes time to build and only a moment to eradicate. Here are some steps to take when miscommunication breaks down:

·       Quickly address and begin to repair broken trust when misunderstandings occur. It may be that both of you need a day to cool off and gain perspective, but don’t wait too long.

·       Communicate that you care. Apologize for the misunderstanding. “I am sorry,” goes a long way.  “I missed the communication on this and I am sorry.”

·       Make time to listen. Soon. Notice I did not say make time to talk. We must listen first to understand.

Some things to keep in mind:

·       Human beings make meaning out of the events in our lives. This is both a blessing and a curse. In her book, Rising Strong Berne Brown has a great phrase that can help us to begin sharing some of the hard things we are thinking about someone else. She invites us to begin the conversation with the phrase: “The story I am making up about this is…..” Somehow this phrase lets us share hard feelings more candidly, yet with a bit of kindness and humor. We allow the other person to have a better picture of what the situation really feels like. Sugar coating the truth doesn’t get us as far as candor does. I’ve tried it, and can assure you this phrase somehow allows and unlocks more candor, and releases us from a posture of judgment and defensiveness. Try it!

·       We judge ourselves by our intent and others by our experience. You may not have intended to lie, mislead, break trust, or betray your colleague, but those are words I often hear behind closed doors. They express how the other person interprets what has happened to them. Remember, it is their interpretation that is driving how they feel about and respond to you, not your intentions.

In short, once trust is broken, go carefully and swiftly to address it, otherwise the breach of trust grows swiftly. It takes much longer to break through hardened feelings that grow with time. Once a story has been written about why we did what we did, it becomes harder for us to challenge those stories by simply listening, caring and asking questions.

Yes, it can be very hard to listen to and acknowledge another person’s story about us, but when we do we are able to do something important with that other person. We can co-create a future together.

We do that by acknowledging and asking questions:

“Wow. I didn’t understand how this came across to you. [acknowledge]

That must have been very hard. I am sorry for that. [apologize]

I don’t want to come across that way again. What can I do differently in the future?” [ask]

What do you do when misunderstandings arise? When trust gets broken?

·       Stay open.

·       Listen.

·       Acknowledge that person’s real experience.

·       Apologize for the misunderstanding.

·       Ask, “What can we do differently together now?”

What comes to us on the other side of these hard experiences can actually be quite rewarding. Like the bones of the body that knit back together more strongly in the broken places, relationships that successfully navigate through misunderstandings and broken trust develop something beyond imagination and creativity, trust and collegiality.  They develop resilience, assurance, and strength.

Trust given is one thing. Trust tested and retained or even trust shattered and restored is another level of relationship entirely. And this is where the real promise and potential begins: on the other side of, “What happens when it breaks?” lies the question, “What is possible now?”  Often the answer is,“A great deal more than before.”