Articles

Trust and Communication

June 14, 2017 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council


At Legitimate Leadership we believe that the critical factor accounting for successful management-employee communication is the degree to which employees trust the source of the communication. Neither the content of the message (WHAT management says) nor the choice of medium (HOW they say it) is anywhere near as important as whether it is trusted in the first place.

When managers are trusted, individually and collectively, then what they say is generally believed and accepted. When trust in management is low, employees are suspicious of everything that management says, even if it is the truth.

Trust in management is granted or withheld on the basis of a single criterion: the degree to which employees perceive management to be in the relationship to “give” or to “take”. When managers are perceived to be pursuing their own interests, to only be in the relationship to get something out of their people, trust in them will be low. When managers are experienced as there to give or serve their people, only then will their staff be willing to give to them – because they trust that their manager has their best interests at heart.

What acting in employees’ best interest means with respect to communication is the following:

  1. Management commits to communicating even when it appears not to be in their best interests at the time. They communicate with their people even when it does not seem to be the most utilitarian or expedient thing to do. They tell it like it is even if there’s no advantage to them in doing so. If they communicate when it suits them and stop communicating when it doesn’t, they won’t be trusted.
  2. They tell their people what they want to know, not what management wants to tell them. And what employees want to know is primarily two things:
  • How is the business doing?
  • How am I / my team doing?

Only when management consistently delivers on these two primary information needs will they be seen as acting in their employees’ best interests.

  1. Management never lies to their people but rather always speaks the truth. This is because when management lies, they destroy trust. They create the conditions that, going forward, their people can no longer take them at their word. As Frederick Nietzsche said so succinctly, “What upsets me is not that you lied to me, but that I can no longer believe in what you say”.
  2. Management goes beyond responding honestly to questions asked. They actively disclose and give feedback. They provide the “why” behind their decisions. They share both their thoughts and their feelings, as well as the facts. They both tell their people what they expect of them and how well they are doing against those expectations.

Living up to these standards is not easy. The benefits to management, long-term, of doing so are immense, however.

Wendy Lambourne
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