Social Intimacy: A Sure Bet For Achieving Workplace Trust

Who knew the simple word “trust” had such a complex, multifaceted connotation?! I began to suspect it after studying Maister’s Trust Equation, which has gone on to become one of my trusty templates for helping clients develop their brands. As these companies identify their values, together we dig deep into what communicative devices like disclosure, linguistics and reliability mean to them. For managers and reports alike, finding virtue in these devices lends itself to the ability to authentically assess others and to actually BE trustworthy oneself. Has my series of DRIVEN articles in this department transformed you into a trusted advisor and colleague? Not so fast! We’re not done dissecting the equation just yet.

There’s an additional dimension to trust as it relates to workplace principles and protocols. This dimension reveals itself in the way you feel when entrusting a colleague or manager with a sensitive issue. It’s the difference between “I can trust her with this information since she’s never violated my confidence before” and “I cannot trust her with this information since, after all, she’s the office gossiper.” The dimension I’m referring to is non-sexual Intimacy, and it should be thought of as your workplace “safe space” and your formula for staff interconnectedness.

Clam Up, or Carry On?

A code of social Intimacy is vital in the office environment. Think about it: If we’re growing and stretching beyond our personal comfort zones, we’re vulnerable. But if we’re playing it safe because we don’t trust our colleagues, we’re not providing value to the firm as knowledge workers. A good example of judging where you stand on the intimacy meter is the staff meeting. When you have an inspired idea during a meeting, do you share it openly, confident that your voice will be heard? Or do you remain quiet, fearful that you will either be ridiculed or otherwise silenced? How do you suspect your coworkers would answer this same question?

And of course, there’s even more to consider. Don’t forget about good-ol’ brain chemistry and the havoc that workplace paranoia can wreak on your emotional health. An environment that lacks Intimacy protocols can distort trust in unforeseen ways, and literally mess with our minds. Let’s examine this scientifically: The perceived threat of a breach of trust on the part of a colleague alerts your pesky amygdala to keep your cortisol and adrenaline levels high, similar to the levels achieved during a valid threat (like encountering a bear during your hike). In the throes of this chemical rush, your thinking becomes fogged and your response can be extreme or illogical (like clamming up during future interactions with your colleagues). When Intimacy is part of the intraoffice equation to begin with, these types of misreadings are averted, and your team pulls ahead.

Tough Talks & Lessons Learned

On the flipside of the fight-or-flight scenario, when we remain appropriately vulnerable we can grow emotionally. One way to ensure this result is to cultivate a workplace culture where each member of the staff feels safe receiving feedback and engaging in difficult conversations with one another….a state of perpetual coaching, so to speak. Such “tough talks” can serve as the differentiators between stagnation and social progress when it comes to trust. Remember, it’s not the routine workplace tasks that change office culture; it’s those challenging moments that come to us as opportunities that will ultimately lead to personal growth for each individual. When we make mistakes, we can choose to close down, or we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable, leading to lessons learned and future mistakes avoided. And a little tip to coax this outlook along: It helps to make it clear to folks that there will be no punishment or penalty, financially OR emotionally, for learning from our mistakes. This is perhaps the ultimate lesson in how Intimacy yields Trust.

Check in soon for Part 2 of this exploration of Workplace Intimacy, which will examine several real situations, from my own client dealings, that demonstrate how easily intimacy can unravel, sending intraoffice rapport into a tailspin.