25 Behaviors that Foster Mistrust

Please welcome Peter Vajda, a frequent commenter on this blog, and a respected thought leader, coach, writer, and co-founder of SpiritHeart.  I’m delighted to yield the floor to him for one of his many fine articles. 

"Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly, and they will show themselves great." —
Ralph Waldo Emerson  

 
All of life is relationship – even life at work. And the most critical, foundational building block of a team is trust. Without trust most teams are really disparate collections of individuals called groups. The element that creates or erodes trust is your individual behavior.

Trust can support teams to go the extra mile, work for the greater good of the team and the organization, foster open and honest communication and engender mutual respect and support.

Distrust, on the other hand, often stems from a "me first" mind-set that leads to destructive conflict, egoism, and a "going through the motions" attitude. 

Trite and worn it may be, but "There is no ‘I’ in team"  is a fact of life at work.   When trust is lacking among team members, they spend inordinate amounts of time and energy resisting others’ inappropriate behaviors, reacting to others’ disingenuousness, playing politics, resisting meetings, and feeling reluctant to ask for, or to give, support.  In a culture characterized by mistrust, relationships suffer.  And when relationships suffer, performance, production and profits suffer.

How might you be contributing to mistrust on your team?

Here are 25 behaviors that contribute to creating team mistrust: 

1. You fail to keep your promises, agreements and commitments.  
2. You serve your self first and others only when it is convenient.  
3. You micromanage and resist delegating.  
4. You demonstrate an inconsistency between what you say and how you behave.  
5. You fail to share critical information with your colleagues.  
6. You choose to not tell the truth.  
7. You resort to blaming and scapegoating others rather than own your mistakes.  
8. You judge, and criticize rather than offer constructive feedback.  
9. You betray confidences, gossip and talk about others behind their backs.  
10. You choose to not allow others to contribute or make decisions.  
11. You downplay others’ talents, knowledge and skills.  
12. You refuse to support others with their professional development.  
13. You resist creating shared values, expectations and intentions in favor of your own agenda; you refuse to compromise and foster win-lose arguments.  
14. You refuse to be held accountable by your colleagues.  
15. You resist discussing your personal life, allowing your vulnerability, disclosing your weaknesses and admitting your relationship challenges.   
16. You rationalize sarcasm, put-down humor and off-putting remarks as "good for the group".  
17. You fail to admit you need support and don’t ask colleagues for help.  
18. You take others’ suggestions and critiques as personal attacks.  
19. You fail to speak up in team meetings and avoid contributing constructively.  
20. You refuse to consider the idea of constructive conflict and avoid conflict at all costs.  
21. You consistently hijack team meetings and move them off topic.  
22. You refuse to follow through on decisions agreed upon at team meetings.  
23. You secretly engage in back-door negotiations with other team members to create your own alliances.  
24. You refuse to give others the benefit of the doubt and prefer to judge them without asking them to explain their position or actions.  
25. You refuse to apologize for mistakes, misunderstandings and inappropriate behavior and dig your heels in to defend yourself and protect your reputation. 

By contrast, when you authentically show up in integrity, and allow your vulnerability to show, others see you as genuine, warts and all.  As such, your teammates will begin to trust you and gravitate towards you as you have created a personal container of safety in which others feel they can relate to you in an equally genuine fashion.   

Communication and true teamwork are functions of trust, not technique. When trust is high, communication is easy and effortless. Communicating and relating are instantaneous. But, when trust is low, communicating and relating take effort, and are exhausting, and time and energy consuming.

Are you guilty of contributing to mistrust?

[To read Peter’s self-diagnostic questions–to find out if you are doing any of these things–see the rest of the article]

"The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust." 
–Henry L. Stimson
 

11 replies
  1. Leda
    Leda says:

    Peter Vadja…  25 Behaviors that Foster Mistrust‏…

    I am speechless…   Thank you, thank you SO much…

    Reply
  2. Andrea Howe
    Andrea Howe says:

    I think this is a great list. And I think it’s too easy to read the boldly-worded list and say "Oh, no, I don’t do those things" and move on. Except we do do those things.

    For example:

    "1. You fail to keep your promises, agreements and commitments. " Even the TINIEST of agreements count, IMHO. Most of us don’t allow major goofs in this area. Most of us are also guilty of avoiding calling attention to being a couple hours late on something we promised (as an example). The problem is that those couple of hours count — they count against us when we avoid calling attention to them and count in our favor when we say, "Hey, I’m two hours later than I said I would be and take responsibility for the impact of that."

    "9. You betray confidences, gossip and talk about others behind their backs. " A sidebar venting session with a colleague might seem harmless. It’s not. It’s misdirected and undermines (sometimes subtly) more than just you and the colleague.

    "18. You take others’ suggestions and critiques as personal attacks. " Maybe this doesn’t look like an outburst in a meeting (yours). It might look like feelings of defensiveness, hurt, irritation that don’t get acknowledged and expressed.

    There’s an element of impeccability that’s required to build trust. Which is different from perfection. It’s more about being perfectly human and totally honest about it.

    Reply
  3. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Hello Andrea,

    Your three examples are spot on. What I get from these is how often we operate on "autopilot", being reactive, basically "unconscious," of the ways we live life, even at work.

    For the self-aware, they fully know the implications of (1) being late -how that communicates disrespect and a "me first", ego-centered perspective and. More than that, the self-aware understand the huge importance of keeping ageements and promises, and don’t just make commitments and promises to accommodate others and tell others what they want to hear, knowing full well they most likely can’t or won’t keep their promises.  And they "own" their behavior when they trip and reneg on their commitments; (2) the self-aware know that reactivity is a sure doorway to missteps and so are conscious when their amygdala brain is taking over, and take steps to breathe, center and ground themselves and move to responding rather than reacting in those sidebar conversations. Too, they are the first to apologize when their reactivivity hurts or harms another. (3) The self-aware have a felt sense when being defensive; they know it and feel it. Too, they also own their defensiveness and take responsibility for being off-putting, apologizing when necessary and making whatever "repairs" are necessary for the health of the relationship (individual or group/team)

    Yes, Andrea, it is about impecccability…directly related to character and integrity, not to an ego-drive to be perfect.

    Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

    Reply
  4. Stewart Hirsch
    Stewart Hirsch says:

    Peter –

    These are all terrific examples of contributing to team mistrust.  I think #19 is one that we might not recognize so easily, and commend you for raising it:

    "19. You fail to speak up in team meetings and avoid contributing constructively. "   At its worst, this may be a technique to get more credit for ideas in another forum or avoid having ideas vetted or rejected so there’s another or different bite at the apple.  At its best, failing to speak up is based in modesty or low confidence.  Either way, the result is the same – everyone loses by missing our thoughts, and may wonder if we’re really on the team.  One thing to consider – even if our contribution is not right on target, sharing our thoughts may trigger others to even more beneficial discussion.

    Thanks for sharing this Peter!

    Reply
  5. john troll
    john troll says:

    Peter:

    After I read your list of mistrustful behaviors I found myself laughing out loud and crying inside. I suspect many folks would recognize these as tools for survival in thieir  organization. And in such organizations the challenge for each person is how to lower one’s shields first- in a larger environment where every unwritten rule of survival points one in the direction of your post.

    Two other thoughts kept intruding on my consciousness.

    Now I remember why Dilbert is so popular.

    Isn’t it amazing that in the climate you describe that ANYTHING gets accomplished.

     

    Reply
  6. john troll
    john troll says:

    Peter:

    After I read your list of mistrustful behaviors I found myself laughing out loud and crying inside. I suspect many folks would recognize these as tools for survival in thieir  organization. And in such organizations the challenge for each person is how to lower one’s shields first- in a larger environment where every unwritten rule of survival points one in the direction of your post.

    Two other thoughts kept intruding on my consciousness.

    Now I remember why Dilbert is so popular.

    Isn’t it amazing that in the climate you describe that ANYTHING gets accomplished.

     

    Reply
  7. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    You’re welcome, Stewart. I agree. Reagrdless of the conscious or unconscious motives for being silent, the result is the same…lost opportunities to share and contribute, to receive and to garner mutual trust and confidence, to add to the "glue" that holds a team together.

    The curious question, for me in my work, is why we don’t speak up. . .e.g., is there a culture where getting slammed in some way, being made to feel  "bad" or "wrong",  etc., is the result of speaking up? Or, perhaps, is there a childhood belief ("little boys/girls should be seen and not heard…") that one is now acting out in adulthood in a way that one feels one should be "quiet"…often the folks who, as you suggest, might go "back door" to make their points or offer their suggestions, ideas, etc.

    An effective team leader, or manager, is one who can support the "silent" to inquire into their silence, look at the "truth" of it – whether it supports their performance/contribution to the well-being of the team, or not – and then support/coach these folks to take steps, slowly, to move more proactively into an open, collaborative relationship with others in a group setting.

    Reply
  8. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    John,

    Yes, there is a sadness about this if one were to look at the deeper dynamics that characterize so many of our workplace relationships – relationships that are based as much, if not more, on survival as on friendship and colleageality.

    As for you thought, "Now I remember why Dilbert is so popular.", perhaps the challenge for each of us is how to be the anti-Dilbert in our respective workplace.

    And, yes, it is sometimes curious that things get accomplished. What I witness all too often is that, yes, things do get accomplished but at the price of poor morale, incredibly intense stress levels, and a poor sense of well-being. "Presenteeism" is a characteristic that describes many folks at work these days – they are there physically, but emotionally, psychologically, energetically and mentally they are not. Not a fertile ground for sewing seeds of trust.

    Reply
  9. Sunata Beulah Mvula
    Sunata Beulah Mvula says:

    Hello,

    my fiancee and I have been dating for 4 years. in our second year together, he stopped treating me okay. he is always suspicious of me even when am just attending evening classes. 3 weeks ago he brought me a court order, asking me to return everything i owe him. I had gotten money from him 2 years ago and was supposed to give him back and i lost my job in the event. he told me he would rather end the relationship than be with someone who always lies to him. he always says this. its like he stopped trusting me because i was unable to return his money back. we talked and said we start afresh. but lately every time we talk he is always saying if he catches me doing nasty things i shall pay for it. i honestly don’t understand him. and i think i should let him go. i don’t enjoy being with him any more. this is his language every time we talk.

    Reply

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  1. […] Most people, whether it be in a face-to-face setting or in a CMR, always seem to be looking for reasons to distrust others, whether those reasons be conscious or largely unconscious […]

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