Q: I’ve recently taken a managerial job in a department that had completely lost trust in their prior manager. He threw employees under the bus, made a lot of promises that he never kept and lied outright. I’ve been meeting individually with every employee, and in one way or another, each has said, “so how do I know I can trust what you say?”
I’m at a loss, other than to say, “You just have to give me a chance.” That doesn’t seem to be enough of an answer, and what I get in response ranges from a solemn stare to a “yeah, sure” smirk. Then, this morning, when I got asked the “how do we know we can believe what you’re telling us” question at our departmental meeting, I blew it. I said, “look, I’m going to have to trust you, and you’re going to need to trust me or this won’t work.” I admit I felt put on the spot and got angry. Now I need to dig myself out of this and need some help. I’ve struggled for the last hour writing an email apology, but nothing I write reads right.
A: You’re right that you need to prove, through real actions, that your employees can trust you. How you act each day trumps any words you might speak. You’re also right that you need to give those who ask this question more of an answer, so that they have a reason to give you the chance you seek.
When I conduct an investigation, mediation or coaching session, I’m often asked exactly this question. My new client, particularly if their organization has ordered them to meet with me, often walks in the door with skepticism. When they ask “how do I know I can trust you” or “how do I know you’ll keep confidentiality,” I explain how I work, how I specifically safeguard their information, how I make assessments and decisions and what they can expect as outcomes after working with me. A straightforward answer, with specifics, respects the questioner and initiates trust. Then you prove yourself.
It’s understandable that you reacted defensively when confronted in a group setting. You felt painted with a negative brush by individuals who viewed you through the lens of their past manager. You can’t, however, make this about you; you need to make it about your employees and what they need. They were burned. They have legitimate concerns. What can you tell them that addresses those concerns?
I recently met with a potential surgeon who planned to take the place of the surgeon with whom I’d initially scheduled a surgery but who was out of town. In our first meeting, I said, “I need to have confidence in you.” Instead of saying “here’s what you can expect,” “here’s my experience” or “here’s how I work,” she answered, “I’m not comfortable if you’re not confident in me. I need all my patients to have 100 percent confidence in me.” You said something similar, that they needed to trust you. While true, it didn’t answer their question.
And that’s your solution — answer their question. But don’t send a memo. Hold a “do over” meeting. Tell them what makes you trustworthy. Give them specifics on how you handle employee situations. Stay open as they ask follow-up questions. Let them know exactly how you plan to earn their trust. Then, do it.
© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” and “Solutions” as well as Regional Director of Training and Business Consulting for The Growth Company, an Avitus Group Company. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com.