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?

“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

Do Lawyers Behave Rationally?

Of course they do. Just ask them.

They—at least those in the US—will also tend to define “rational” as based on linear, deductive thinking. Not unlike the law.

Dispute resolution, from this perspective, is largely a zero sum battle. That “win-win” stuff may work in business, but not when the chips are down in a court of law. Right?

Well, not so fast. Jim Peterson is a lawyer who handled European litigation for one of the global accounting firms; an American in Paris, he has a lot of perspective. And he shared with me this story:

I picked up a valuable lesson early in my expatriate experience in Europe – where the importance of personal contacts and relationship-building can elude the grasp of typically impatient Americans.

When I first arrived in Paris, I inherited a file on a long-standing claim by a French company against my American client. The suit was pending in Germany, where it had been largely dormant for five years, partly because of the ponderous system for large commercial litigation but more because local German counsel felt they were handling an annuity matter that would fund their retirements.

With this lack of urgency, the parties had had only desultory contacts about settlement, and the case management budget steadily hemorrhaged legal fees.

My first task was to contact my opposite in-house number about some trivial interim topic. From a brief telephone call that barely got beyond the “new guy in town” introductions, it was clear that for the time being the two companies had nothing to talk about.

Notwithstanding, as a new resident I triggered a follow-up call, to invite my French adversary to lunch. The explicit condition was that we were not to transact business or mention the litigation.

In summary, a good time was had, over an excellent meal.

More years passed, with no activity other than the ongoing drain of fees, until suddenly the settlement cork was pulled. Led by the Germans, there was real progress but an eventual make-or-break impasse. The local clients and outside counsel had gone as far as they could.

We inside counsel re-convened in France. Drawing on the modest but real stock of personal good will built up over lunch those years before – in truth not much more than the prosaic “How’s the family”– we were able to negotiate successfully and bring the matter to a mutually satisfactory close.

Could it have happened other ways? Perhaps. Had a long-term friendship been established? Clearly not. But I would never underestimate the value of the pay-off, from two hours invested in the sole achievement of a fine French meal and a measure of camaraderie.

Did Jim pursue a “rational” approach? If by “rational” you mean did it make sense, did it achieve outcomes, quickly and inexpensively? Absolutely.  In fact, the "French lunch strategy" beat the crap out of the usual adversarial system.

But if by “rational” you mean according to cognitive rules, case law and the procedures of the court—no way Jose. The traditional “rational” approach would have resulted in, as Jim said, only in an annuity for many lawyers.

Sometimes it makes sense—a ton of sense—to completely avoid the “rational” set of logical processes and systems.

Sometimes it’s rational to just be human. (Not to mention more pleasant). Yes, for lawyers too. Even American ones. In fact, for all service providers. (And it probably even works with California wines).

(Jim used to write a column for the International Herald Tribume. It continues at Re:Balance, where his current post compares Lehman Brothers’ fall with that of Arthur Andersen).